I’ve been a member of the same book group for more than twenty years. We’re a small group of women who enjoy reading and we have quite different tastes which is a good thing.
I often tell people that although we like very different kinds of books, we all appreciate good writing. But recently someone asked me what I mean when I say that something is ‘well written’. Isn’t this purely subjective? A matter of opinion?
Well, yes and no.
A book can be well written, but boring. It can be well written, but too slow or the characters can be really unlikeable. (See my previous post for my thoughts on unlikeable characters).
Here’s a few things that I think contribute to good writing.
Well crafted sentences are always appreciated. I like it when I don’t have to read a sentence more than once to figure out what it means. If I do read a sentence twice, it’s usually because I’ve enjoyed it so much that I want to read it again.
I like writing that is honest but graceful. I like lyrical writing, but I dislike long descriptive passages and tend to skip over them if they are too long. I like the story to move along at a fairly brisk pace.
I like the characters to be complex and multi-dimensional (just like in real life). It’s great when characters have a range of emotions, or mixed feelings. I like to understand their motivations, their fears, their secret desires.
A couple of years ago my book group read an excellent book by Stephanie Bishop, a West Australian author called “The Other Side of the World”. Set in England, Australia and India in the early 1960s, it was described by the New York times Book Review as an exquisite meditation on motherhood, marriage, and the meaning of home. For me, this is the kind of book that encapsulates what I like best in books. Strong themes, strong characters and lots of thought provoking questions that we couldn’t really answer in our book group, but we enjoyed discussing.
And yes, we thought it was well-written, whatever that means.