I’ve been a member of the same book group for over 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 different 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?
Yes, and no.
A book can be beautifully written, but boring. Some books are too slow or the characters are really unlikeable. (See my previous post for my thoughts on unlikeable characters).
Here are a few things that I think contribute to good writing.
I appreciate well-crafted sentences. I don’t like having 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 enjoy 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 stories to move along at a fairly brisk pace.
I like the characters to be complex and multi-dimensional. It’s great when characters have a range of emotions, or mixed feelings. I like to understand their motivations, their fears, and 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, the New York times Book Review described it as an exquisite meditation on motherhood, marriage, and the meaning of home. For me, this is the sort of book that encapsulates what I like best. Powerful themes, strong characters and lots of thought-provoking questions we couldn’t really answer in our book group, but we enjoyed discussing.
And yes, we thought it was well written, whatever that means.