Browse an internet forum or a blog about writing, browse a site like Amazon or Goodreads, speak to a teacher or reader, a friend, a stranger – anyone, and they’ll probably have an opinion on what ‘good writing’ looks like.
Especially in regards to fiction.
Thankfully, most of those opinions will be varied. For every dogmatic claim there will be a more reasoned response. Now, you can relax, this post isn’t leading to a rehash of the utter tedium that is the 'literary fiction' VS 'commercial fiction' debate.
Instead, what I find missing from typical responses to the question of ‘good writing’ is a definition of terms. Musicians and other artists also appear to fall victim to the same fallacy when claiming that only one definition could possibly fit such a complex idea.
But ‘good writing’ isn’t one thing only.
For me, the criteria I think most useful is whether a piece of writing is effective at realising purpose. And further to this, to deny the possibility of multiple responses when considering the question of ‘good writing’ is to deny proper consideration, proper discussion.
So, is good writing:
Some people will tell you that good writing can only be one of the above. And that’s reductionist thinking that so quickly damages the idea of what is worth reading.
Of course my list is in no way exhaustive but the answer to what 'good writing' looks like should be a complex one not a simple one.
A piece of fiction deemed 'emotionless' might be an engaging read because it challenges the reader. And if the purpose of the text is to challenge, it's succeeded in its purpose and thus could be called ‘good.’ A set of logical instructions for a cabinet might not read in a way that is beautiful, but if the writing helps you put that cabinet together, it must surely be ‘good.’ If writing can operate like a window pane, to borrow a phrase from Orwell, it must have achieved the purpose of showcasing the ideas or the stories it is attempting to communicate.
It must therefore be good.
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Ashley Capes is an Australian writer of fiction, poetry and very occasional non-fiction.
Imperial Towers (Never Book 5) - draft 1
Moss Dragon - draft 1
Reed Lavender (working title) - draft 1
Unnamed Spec Fic - draft 1
Whisper of Leaves (sequel) - Outline