I’ve had quite a few people ask me “What does it take to be a great writer?” There are all types of answers depending on the style of writing and so forth.
But for me? Great writing allows you to see. My favorite type of writing and reading for that matter, is storytelling or fictional writing. I’ve read some books and by some well-known authors (or their prospective ghostwriters I suppose) that were…well…not so memorable. Do you ever find yourself reading a chapter and then suddenly realizing, “What is going on in this chapter? Who is this character again? Why are they acting a certain way?”.
When that happens to me, 2 words inevitably come to me. Famous author or not. BAD WRITING.
If I’m reading about a character, I want to know what they look like, what they are thinking, if they have crooked teeth, bad skin, a stutter or any other distintive trait. I want to SEE them in my mind. I want to know this person like the back of my hand.
If a character is so largely forgettable in a book, then why introduce them? My favorite example of this is John Grisham’s “The Firm”. When I was reading about Mitch (the main character). I instantly got a picture of a clean-cut version of Tom Cruise. And, when I read about his adventures, I could SEE Tom Cruise in my mind’s eye.
By the same token, the reason I am such an OPPONENT of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s TV version of her wonderful books is mostly because of the “Pa Ingalls” character. When I read her books, I SAW Pa. I knew that his hair was straight, course and thick. He had a matching beard. His hands were calloused as a result of his hard work. He was well-liked in the town and provided for his family. He was not necessarily handsome, but he was like any other homesteader in early American times.
He was NOT the curly headed, handsome, clean shaven actor in the series. And, Laura Ingalls’ character wasn’t the actress I saw either. I knew that when Hollywood tired of the actual events that happened in the book they would embellish. And, boy did they. The Ingalls adopted a boy so they could have that all-important son, Mary married a blind teacher, Pa never aged but Ma did and so on.
None of that ever happened in the book. Mary never married, Pa and Ma aged at the same rate, Laura’s 2 sisters (Carrie and Grace) died fairly young, and the only boy the Ingalls had was stillborn. Those are the facts.
I know these things because Great Writing Allows You To See.