What Is Great Writing?

There are dozens of opinions on that, so let me add mine.

My high school English teacher gave us two grades for every writing assignment: one for technique, one for content.

  • Contentpertains to the story, which includes emotion.
  • Technique is how well the writer exercises craft to create meaningful content.

Technique errors draw readers away from the story and diminish their enjoyment. Too little story and I won’t read long enough to notice good technique.

Content value is subjective
A novel too in love with the sound of its own voice leaves me cold. I prefer a story with an interesting protagonist striving to reach a goal, who overcomes complications, sacrifices something, learns a lesson, and comes out either a winner or a loser, but always wiser.

If I can identify with the protagonist, even better. If his world is fascinating—bonus! And if I learn something as I read, that’s the best I yet. If a novel makes me question previously held suppositions, along with all of the above—that’s excellent storytelling.

What’s good technique?

  • Crisp, clear, precise writing that uses exactly the right word, and not a word more or less.
  • Oblique dialogue. Clear interior dialogue uncluttered by she thought, he wondered, and italics.
  • Strong verbs and nouns that eliminate redundant adjectives and adverbs.
  • Exposition that flows naturally when I need it, not a moment before or after, and not manufactured in dialogue between people who would already know the information.

Watch for
I am peeved when I see the following words: that, was, were, it, suddenly. I also like a clear point of view, limited to one person per scene, because I’m a child of the video age and accustomed to experience a story the way a camera does.

However, the most beautiful prose won’t matter if I don’t care a lot about the characters by the second chapter—most would say the second page.

Bear in mind

  1. Great writing captivates the reader with story and sympathetic characters.
  2. Great writing functions like a smooth highway, paving the way so the story can flow without distracting the reader.
  3. For the Christian novelist who wants to make a real difference in the world, art must serve the message, not the opposite.

While I’m all for beautiful writing, I place ministry above art. Christian novelists have a responsibility to think of their readers’ welfare. My readers want to be entertained, enlightened, moved, challenged, or inspired. If I don’t meet their desires, my writing is not effective. Not every reader is going to love every book, but my job is to know my readers and try to satisfy them.

Photo: Angela HuntAngela Hunt loves a great read even more than she loves writing. Visit her online.

Image: graur razvan ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Comments

  1. says

    Thank you for this blog, Angela, even though it made me realize that I need to go through my novel yet again! I will hunt and destroy those nasty too-easy words (it, suddenly, that, etc.). I appreciate your wisdom – and your work.

  2. Pauline Hylton says

    Again, Angela, you have encouraged me and taught me to craft my writing around ministry. Thanks.

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