Monday, June 28, 2010

What Makes A Good Writer?

So most of you who read this blog are authors (aspiring, preagented, agented, published, whatever).

I've been stewing over something recently. Over the last week or so, I've had two separate conversations with people about writers -- and how "good" they are.

Things like, "She's a better writer than me." Or, "You're a great writer."

And I want to know: When you're reading a book, what makes you close your eyes and go, "Ohhh, man, s/he's a great writer."

And I don't mean good characterization or a compelling plot. Those are aspects of writing. No, I'm talking about what makes a good WRITER. As in, me myself Elana, is a good writer. Not that my story is good. What would make you say, "That Elana Johnson, she's a good writer."?

Can you see the difference? Is there one? Am I over-thinking (again)? Help a sistah out.

80 comments:

Piedmont Writer said...

Like the agents say, "It's all in the VOICE baby." That's what makes a story compelling, if you can read the book, without "hearing" the author's voice, and just get into it, get lost in it, without looking at how many times she used "that" or "really" or "said, sadly" then to me, that's what makes a great writer.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

A great writer immerses me in the story completely.

Matthew Rush said...

To me it's all about voice, and diction. Anyone can TELL a story but if you can do it in a way that sings, and using words that no one else would likely have used, than you'll probably stick in my memory.

For example (this is just my opinion) JRR Tolkien was not the greatest, most polished writer ever but he was an amazing storyteller.

Cormac McCarthy (again opinion) on the other hand, is one of the greatest writers of our time. His lyrical prose doesn't even require much of a story behind it.

Ian said...

Empathy. Connecting with the reader I think is one of the things that makes a great writer.

Not someone who reinvents the novel or comes up with the most unique metaphors for everything, just someone who can create that picture inside my head that brings it to life simply and clearly.
Like the way great athletes or artists that excel, they have an economy of motion, a cleanness to their art.

It's like when someone writes a scene that although I know it's fiction, it feels so true and real.

That's when I think, 'Man, that's a good writer.'

As Matthew Rush mentioned (above), I think Cormac McCarthy is one of those, and I'd add Michael Chabon, too.

salarsenッ said...

I agree with Piedmont and Matt. Voice. I need to hear the voice of the writer through their emotions. Then that transforms over to their characters. At least that's how it works for me.

Jen said...

The last book I read and said "She's a great writer" was Ally Condie's Matched.

Here are my reasons. I believe as a writer you are given a gift of ideas, worlds apart from others and a knack for great word use and description. Some falter with the idea and don't make it as great as it can be, but for Ally Condie her world was unlike any other, the details and description she went through to make this book as good as it was could not have been easy. I could see the pieces she had to magically put together to tie everything in a nice little bow, and she had done it with what appeared to be effortless, but as writers we know that nothing is effortless.

So I guess what I'm saying is that a compelling plot, great characters and amazing description go hand in hand with great writing!

Hope that helped!

Jai Joshi said...

To me, a 'good writer' is one who communicates well and persuades the reader to their way of thinking. I think also that a 'good writer' has to have 'good intentions' and the will to see those intentions come to fruition.

Jai

Michelle said...

I think a great writer is someone that connects. In other words, when I read a story I see bits of everyday life there, I feel it because there's an emotion, an event, a feeling that I can connect to. But it's subtle, it's not something that is always so obvious, it has to be done in a way that the reader gets it in between the lines so to speak. So to be a good writer you have to be a good observer and then someone that can pick just the right details and convey it in a way that readers connect with.

Claire Dawn said...

I see what you mean. It's the difference between a great writer, and someone who writes well.

Food for thought :)

(Ialso tend to overthink stuff, so a third opinion might be good.lol)

Suze said...

For me it's as simple as someone who can dash off a blog post with all the spelling, grammar and punctuation perfectly done ;-). Sometimes I have to pause and backtrack to get it right! The day I can do it all without thinking - I will consider myself a writer :)

The English Writer said...

This is actually quite a difficult question to answer, because I guess I've always judged a "writer" by their ability to create an addictive plot and allow me to absorb myself into the characters roles - this is a skill of a good writer. I pondered for a while and started thinking about Nicholas Sparks (he isn't my fav writer but I do love his work) - whenever I read his books I say 'he's so good at this' so why? Well for me he taps right into my psyche - he knows how to give me what I want without being too predictable. He writes simply but with maximum impact, and most important, he's consistent, so I guess this is my idea of a "good writer".

Jonathon Arntson said...

It sort of just hits me and I inadvertently utter the words, "I love _____." It's really quite simple.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I think it's a writer who can suck you into the story so you don't want to put it down. It may be the voice, or a super plot with lots of twists, and always has a character that we like and feel empathy for his/her struggles.

Jayne said...

Voice - totally in the voice. When an author has that down pat, then it's a pleasure to read whatever they are writing.

Janna Qualman said...

Voice and that compilation of words. So yep, a good story does equate a good writer, but it's more than that.

And then that's where the subjectivity begins to come in.

Mary said...

For me, a great writer ceases to exist. The story has life and I live it with the characters.

Mary
Giggles and Guns

Candyland said...

Good question. A good writer for me is anyone who can get me to turn the page with their words. No matter how they say it, or what they're saying. If they say it in a way that's music to my ears or I connect with (like I would say it that way). I guess. I don't know. :)

Corey Schwartz said...

Well, I am not sure I totally understand the question, but I will say this. I read books for the "story." I want a compelling plot. Some people I know read for the "writing." They want words that are strung together in a unique way. They like to re-read certain sentences and a paragraphs. I am NOT like that. I read to find out "what happens."

Meredith said...

I know I'm reading the work of a great writer when I'm completely immersed in the world they've created. When I feel connected to the characters. When I really care about what happens. It's all about the way the book makes me feel.

lynnrush said...

I think voice is really important. And having an innate ability to connect with the reader. For me to think, "Wow So & So is a great writer" I have to be feeling the characters.

You know?

Like laughing when they do, crying when they do, feeling scared when they do...anything like that. . . yeah, I'm gonna say you're a great writer.

Thank for the post! Happy Monday.

Lisa and Laura said...

I think a good writer is a writer that makes a connection with their readers. Whether it's through humor, gorgeous prose, engaging characters or a twisty plot. We all have our strengths but in the end what makes a writer good is how our words jump off the page and grab readers.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Voice Voice Voice

Those are the things I notice first. Then it's the ability to suck me into the story.

JoLynne Lyon said...

A good writer makes me think about the book for a long time after I read it.

Corra McFeydon said...

A good writer can make it appear that she's said a grat deal more than she really said. She leaves half the telling of it up to the reader.

- Corra

The Victorian Heroine

Christine Fonseca said...

Voice! I know it when I read it...

WindyA said...

I'm with Lisa and Laura. Reader connection is it for me. If the writer's pulled me into a story to where I can't put the book down and I'm emotionally vested in the characters, the writer's words are the medium that wrap around me.

ella144 said...

Good writing disappears. You cease to see the words on the page and see only the images in your mind, hear the characters as they speak. Whether this is voice, setting, or characterization I don't know, but I know good writing when I see it.

It may not happen in an author's every book, or even on every page, but it's magic when it happens.

A good writer makes magic.

paulgreci said...

A good writer makes me keep turning pages, and at the end the book stays with me. That can be achieved through voice, plot, character, or even something I can't put my finger on.

Brenda Drake said...

Wow, voice is very popular, so it's no surprise when I say, "That Elana Johnson, she's a good writer because of her voice." But to me, it's also how a writer can string just a few words together to plant an image of whatever s/he's describing so perfectly in my mind that also makes me pause and think, 'Wow, that's art'.

Melody said...

If the book is making me giggle, laugh, hold my breath, or otherwise exhibit physical emotion - it had a good writer.

If something happens that I never saw coming and still makes sense - it had a good writer.

If there is something - a character, a sentence, a relationship, a plot point - that I've never seen in a book and probably never will see again - it had a good writer.

Susan R. Mills said...

I agree with Piedmont Writer. It's all in the voice. The author can break every writing rule in the book, but if he/she establishes a voice I connect with, he/she is a good writer.

Rebecca said...

I think a great writer is someone who can write a story that I fall in love with.

And remember, not everyone will love your stories, no matter how "great" a writer you are. It's all subjective.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Books that have made me really pause and savor the "writing" are beautiful in terms of the language and fluency and vision they create. The best YA I've read in a long time that made me dread the end of the book - not because of the story, but because of the WRITING - is The Underneath by Kathi Appelt. Wow! Another is The Kite Runner.

Danyelle said...

For me it's the voice. That's what separates me from a story I like to an author I love. :)

Zoe C. Courtman said...

To me, it's seeing. Then it's the ability to translate what you've seen through your unique lens and make it universal. When I nod and chuckle while reading, I think, there's a great writer. The first few chapters of THE PASSAGE totally made me go, DAMN. Justin Cronin's a great freakin writer.

catwoods said...

A great writer is invisible. They write in such a way that I connect with the story, and not the person telling the story.

Krista said...

Honestly, if I'm thinking about the author while I'm reading a book, it's not a good thing. If I don't think about the author until AFTER the book? It's usually a WOW moment.

Lydia Kang said...

Yep, I need a good voice, a compelling story, and originality. And I love the kind of writing that makes you pause and go, "how did they come up with that phrase? Wow."

Angela Ackerman said...

I think it's voice and word choice. Whatr really grabs me is when someone gets across THE perfect imagery--a simile or metaphor j=or just a well-wrought tight description. When you read a line and you SEE the image exactly as described, that can be a powerful thing.

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Sara B. Larson said...

For me, it's when I can truly get lost in a book, desperately don't want to put it down, don't even notice mistakes type of writing. Those are the books that make me think, wow. S/he is a great writer.

Taryn Tyler said...

Would you be offended if I said that as a reader I don't care if you are a good writer or not so long as your story is good? I think a good writer steps back and contours to the story. Think of the writing as the wine glass and the story as the wine. It's there to acentuate the wine but there is no point in having an empty glass!

Tere Kirkland said...

I don't always mind if good writing is sacrificed to an extent when telling an adventure story. Sometimes I want to dispense with all the fluff and flowery writing and listen to a story.

Then I'll read a book by, say, Philip Pullman, and raise my standards.

His Sally Lockhart books and Golden Compass series have both great writing and great stories. I only hope I'm half as good as him in either department.

Rosslyn Elliott said...

Matthew - very interesting, your perspective on Tolkien.

I'm reading The Hobbit to my daughter right now, and I'm struck by the high quality of the writing. Also, as a former literary scholar, I know that the scholarly world now largely regards Tolkien as a literary author worthy of study. In other words, a good writer.

By contrast, I find that the vast majority of present-day writers, even critically-acclaimed ones, leave me pretty cold. I read one recently who had clearly paid a lot of attention to style and wrote very prettily, but her characters were wooden and lifeless.

I guess for me it's a combination of factors. Firstly, the style has to be good, and there has to be some ability with imagery and metaphor. If the language is so plain and so dialogue-heavy that the novel reads like a film script, then it's not attractive to me. (I know that's a matter of personal taste.) The language itself has to be enjoyable.

Secondly, the characters have to convince me of their reality, usually by those little quirks of thought that are too weird or specific to be anything but real. :-)

Finally, the novel has to be memorable, either because it's thought-provoking, moving, or very amusing.

Margo Berendsen said...

Wow that is a tough question... actually read through most of the comments to see what other people think. For fiction writers, it's really hard to separate a good writer from a good story. They are closely intertwined. But I can say there are certain writers (Stephanie Meyer) that aren't what I would call really GOOD writers but definitely amazing storyteller. It is easy for me to a define a not-so-good writer than a good one. Wordiness, purple prose - not so good. So the opposites are clean, lean writing but at the same time evocative, original descriptions that make you pause (even in a very tense scene) and go - wow!

One last comment: Markus Zusack is an example of a "good writer" in the sense of his marvelous descriptions, but he's WAY TOO WORDY for me so his story the Book Thief failed to keep my interest.

Margo Berendsen said...

OH, I forgot to add above: please please please try to summarize the answers to the this question in another post. Though I realize that will be VERY HARD!

Steph said...

For me, I think that I identify (what I find to be) a good writer, when I can see what I lack in their writing.

That probably doesn't make any sense, but I can write pretty good dialogue, I can tell a decent story, but I do not excel at crafting the beautiful prose that some do. So, when I read a book where the prose stands out (like the book that I just finished -- it made me feel totally inadequate as a writer), I can easily say, "Whoa, that is a good writer." Hope that makes a bit of sense...

Patti said...

I think a good writer is one who makes the reader not want to put the book down.

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

I think it's a combination of things. Voice, page turner, characters oh gosh so now you have me over thinking lol. Every book and writer are unique. Yup that has to be it!

Sandy Shin said...

It's a combination of voice and writing style for me. I like the direct style, but with traces of lovely writing, and bound to notice and appreciate them in novels. However, it's impossible for me to wrench them away from the story, though. A good story makes a good writer more noticeable; and a bad story renders even a good writer stale.

R. Garrett Wilson said...

For me, a good writer is someone who connects with ME. For you, it is a writer who connects with you. No one is a good writer for everyone. The difference between a good writer and a great writer for me is the words... when I don't see them, it's a great writer.

ali said...

I think a good WRITER is a person who puts all the STUFF of writing together in a way that just sings to the reader. Like a symphony ~ the composer starts with a sound, a thought of a sound. From there, he adds in this instrument or that, weaving the different instruments' sounds together in a way that brings his THOUGHT to life. When you listen to that symphony (take Tchaikovsky's Shaherazod) (and okay, my spelling is terrible) ... you don't usually notice wow, his use of rhythm in this section is amazing. You know, the mechanics of the music-making. All you notice is the music takes you away, transports you to the place of the composer's making.

That's what makes a good writer. The way the WRITER uses the mechanics of writing and then *disappears* them into the symphony of his IDEA.

Not sure that even made sense but ... there you go.

Em-Musing said...

Hmm? Had to think about this one a bit. I guess I never think about the writer, just the story. Like when I see a great movie, I never think about the person who wrote the screenplay, or who directed it because I'm so caught up in the story and what I've just experienced. And you can bet, I'll be buying or going to more of whoever did it well.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

A good writer is one who makes me forget I'm even reading at all. A person whose prose draws me into the moment of the novel as if I were living it myself. That author has achieved the Zen of writing.

Elana Johnson said...

Wow, you guys never cease to humble and amaze me. R. Garrett -- you are so so right. Every reader will have a "man, s/he's a good writer" moment. And it will be different than mine.

Ali, I feel ya girl. Right there with ya. *eye contact* Got it.

Margo, I'll try to summarize for a future post. I find this fascinating too.

Taryn, I'm totally offended! TOTALLY. Ha ha ha! Not even close. Thanks for your answer.

Thanks to everyone for their comment. I love reading through them, and getting to know you better based on what you think.

Kelly said...

My mom has been borrowing my YA books lately after she's been reading adult books for years. She remarked how many of the YA are better written than the adult books. Better word usage, intriguing story lines, and voice.

Theresa Milstein said...

It's everything - voice. plot, wording, character development. If anything is missing, I might say I liked a book, but I won't call someone a great writer. Most books, the writer is good or at least okay. When I read The Hunger Games, I liked it on so many levels, I'd classify Suzanne Collins as a great writer. And sometimes I have to read more than one book by the same author to put him or her in the "great" author category.

Riv Re said...

I'm still in school, and most of my classmates don't enjoy writing, and aren't talented at it. Their sentences are choppy, their words repetitious, their descriptions, when they even use description, is weirdly expressed and lacking.
A good writer can make a story flow. They can put together sentences in a way that doesn't make it awkward. They can describe with perfection, not going overboard, and can make the reader imagine being in the story.
That's how I define a good writer.

Southpaw said...

When I stop analyzing a story and end up reading needing to know what happens, I know I’ve found a good writer.

Shigune Matsui said...

A great writer dazzles one with words, the idea, or perhaps their own unique symbolisms within a story. They can dazzle one with a hook within the story's beginnings or somewhere going towards the ends of the story.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

A good writer can make me read a genre I wouldn't usually pick up. A good writer makes me get lost in their words. A good writer makes me leave my world and enter theirs...and not be able to come back to reality until I finish the book or series of books.

Gail said...

I'm not sure you can separate the "good writer" from the writing he/she does. Ones Voice comes through your writing and it's the writing that connects the reader to the story and, by association, the author. A good writer, to me, is one that grabs my attention within the first 2 pages and holds me until the last page. When I love the writing, and want to read more from that author, I know I've found a "good writer." I aspire to be one someday!

Carolyn V. said...

I think what makes a good writer is someone who will actually sit down, write, revise and fix. I also think we are all good writers at times and bad writers at others. Does that make me a bad writer because I am stuck in revisions? *shrugging shoulders* I'd better get to work!

TerryLynnJohnson said...

wow, you get a lot of comments!
Good writer example - S.A.King Dust of 100 Dogs. That book has crawled under my skin and hangs on.

Jemi Fraser said...

Good question.

Hmmm... I think for me a good writer is one who makes me forget about the writing itself. When I'm reading something by a 'good writer' I don't notice the details, I'm lost in the story.

How do they do that? I have no idea! :)

LReneeS said...

I think what makes a good writer is how much time and effort he/she puts into their work. There are a lot of people of there in our world that write, but that does not make them GOOD. What makes them good is when you can tell that they have truly put their heart and soul into their work, and I think that is what every writer has to work towards.
When someone is able to tell you a good writer, I do not believe that is just because they like how they write. I think when someone tells you that it means that you have truly found your voice in your project(s).
Anyone can be a writer, but it takes a talented person to be a good writer.

Happy writing,
LReneeS

Robin McCormack said...

A good writer is one who makes me forget who is writing the story. The story draws you in, captivates your, entrenches you in the story and the characters. Life ceases to exist while you are reading the story. One I don't find myself analyzing it or throw out of the story because of something really stupid or an unbelievable action of the character.

CMOM Productions said...

A great writer is someone who can take a topic/story that I might not even be interested in and make it sound fascinating!

Erinn said...

A good writer makes me go, "Damn I wish I could do that."

Jessica Nelson said...

I like when a writer uses words in fresh new ways, or makes a compelling metaphor. I like both simple and lush writing, esp. when it's beautiful to read.
Now, I'm just talking the writing, not the story.
:-)

Katie Ganshert said...

I'm not sure you can tease writing and writer apart. The writing has to be good for me to say somebody is a great writer. And for the writing to be good, it all comes down to the story.

For me, it's a combination of Voice, character, and story. If the characters are real and compelling, if the story keeps me flipping pages, and if the Voice captivates me....if all of these things combine to give me a book I can't put down...then I most definitely say, "She/He is a good writer!"

Karen Lange said...

So welcome to the Over Thinking Club. I'm a charter member. You want in? I'll write you a recommendation.

Seriously though, there are many things that make a good writer. My criteria? For starters - someone who can convey thoughts on paper in an effective manner, whether in fiction or non fiction form, has a good sense of humor, and a willingness to grow and learn...

Happy Monday!
Karen :)

Raquel Byrnes said...

My hope is for the reader to not think of me at all during the story.

If I've done my job right, the character's voice is unique from mine, the story compelling enough too keep the reader engaged, and the book worth the price they paid.

The only time I hope they think of me is when they go to ask for another one of my novels.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Sometimes I think a great writer is one who knows what readers what. Other times I think it's someone who's completely original and doesn't follow the rules. Today, I just think it's dangerous to try to compare myself to someone else. I don't want to conform but I don't want to flounder...so, yeah. That probably didn't answer your question at all. But hey--it made me think :)

Annette Lyon said...

Majorly loaded and complex question there.

Sometimes it boils down to the ability to seamlessly put awesome sentences together. But then the ability to string them in to paragraph that force the reader to keep turning pages--so there's pacing and character and all that.

But plain old good WRITER? I think it does go down to do you have a grasp of the language and how to use it well?

The other side of the coin is STORYTELLER. I know some crap-tastic WRITERS who are great STORYTELLERS, and since story comes first, they get away with not being great writers.

Books Dudes Will Read said...

I think a few of the commenters hinted at this, but the answer, to me, is that a good writer writes well consistently. That they work their craft sincerely with each book or story. The plots continue to surprise us. The characters still touch us. The settings intrigue us. The themes never fall flat. The style makes us smile every time. To write one good book, maybe that is good fortune. To enchant audiences over and again, that is greatness.

lisanowak said...

Someone who successfully suspends my disbelief. Someone who pulls me into a story so fully that I don't want to put it down.

Charity Bradford said...

I'm late! So I didn't read all the comments above and apologize if this has been said.

For me, it is all about the story. I don't think about the writer at all. Not until I'm all done. Then, if I've been completely immersed in the world, the characters, the conflict--so much so that I was able to forget my life--then I think what a great book.

Wait? I still didn't think about the author! Wow, what does that mean for me as a writer? I guess I'd better work on my story since that is what readers really want. ;)

madeleinerex.com said...

I know I've found a great writer when I realize that no one else could possibly write something as incredible as what I just read. When something becomes beautiful not because of the characters or plot, but because of the words chosen and the order they were put in.

Sydnee said...

A good writer is one who tells a story so masterfully that the individual aspects (characterization, plot, dialogue) fade into the background and it's like a full-fledged movie in my head. If a book is good, I'm not consciously looking at a passage and saying "oh, that's good characterization". Instead, I feel it, you know? Almost as if it stops being a book, and becomes a series of events that are happening right before your eyes, in real life and in color.

johnny said...

For me, like madeleinerex, it's about the chosen words and the order they were put together, but also a good writer, to me, has only revelant stuff in their story. I hate it when I read pages, and then realized those pages contribute nothing to the story. I also don't like sub plots that don't support the main plot. They are just page fillers. Above all, good writers write the shortest explanations for some of the most complicated situations, and yet still painted complete, amazing pictures, many times much better than the ones with long, complicated descriptions.

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