The Different Faces of Good Writing

My last article on the craft of writing focused on contrasting different types of casual writers with professional writers and examined how their craft varies depending on the intended audience. This time, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about the different types of quality writing that professional authors will do for their respective styles and genres.

Too often, the concept of ‘good writing’ for professional authors is overly simplified by well-meaning industry professionals. For example, I once attended a workshop on setting description where the presenter gave multiple examples of lengthy, image-heavy scene description. Her attitude was that these were all examples of good writing, while other, less-detailed descriptions, were examples of bad writing. What she failed to mention was that depending on the type of book and the scene involved, there are many times when drawn-out descriptions are the wrong choice and will break the narrative’s flow and pacing.

My point is that there are many approaches to writing which are often presented as absolutes, when in reality, their effectiveness is relative to the type of story that the author wants to tell. Let’s use the idea of long descriptions vs. short descriptions to illustrate.

If I were writing a scene in a literary novella where an old man is sitting on a park bench in winter and is thinking about mortality, that would be a perfect time to use some complex imagery in the description. Details like the cold, silent snow and the low clouds pressing down on the world like death shrouds would add to the poignancy of the moment and evoke some real emotion.

But what if the same old man in the park is actually sitting there waiting to make contact with one of his undercover agents in a thriller novel? The reader doesn’t need to know any details about the park, except perhaps that it is cold and uncomfortable but there’s no one around, so it’s the perfect place for this sort of meeting.

Neither of these two approaches are wrong despite their significant differences, and a good author will know what approach is best for each scene and story. Of course, good writing does tend to share some characteristics, regardless of the approach. It’s important to stay focused on the primary purpose of the scene, for example, just like an author should be mindful of common problems like excessive wordiness or failing to establish any setting at all. But a skilled writer will be able to remember all of those important principles while still using the approach that works best for their story and intended audience.

Above image generated using Microsoft Designer

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