Good writing

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.

6 thoughts on “Good writing

  1. I started a book last year which is a good story but is so badly written it makes me mad! To be fair the writer isn’t a professional, it’s a memoir of sorts, but still. I’m still slowly reading it amongst other things, but it’s more of a chore than a pleasure.

  2. I think it is amazing you’ve been in a book group that has been around that long. Truly special, and not something most of us have. I liked this post and the one you just put up on your other blog. I’ll take a look at The Other Side of the World, it sounds wonderful!

    1. Hello Valorie and thanks for commenting. I was just thinking the other day that the conversations at book group used to revolve around our children and their various school endeavors and sporting events, but now we spend most of the time talking about what we’ll do when we retire. We are gradually leaving the paid workforce and looking for things to entertain us as we grow older. I’m looking forward to having more time to read, although I don’t do to badly in that regard.

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