How would you briefly describe what "good writing" is?

I want to see how much consensus there is on the idea of what good writing is. Maybe there’s a lot of variance, maybe there isn’t.

Suppose you had to briefly describe what “good writing” is. What would you say?

Not sure whether you’re referring to fiction or non-fiction, but my answer applies more to non-fiction.

When I worked as a writing tutor at my college, I explained it like this: Bad writing occurs when readers are struggling to figure out what you’re trying to say. Good writing occurs when readers know exactly what you’re saying, but don’t really care. Great writing occurs when readers know exactly what you’re saying, and you’ve inspired them enough to care about what you’re saying.

Good writing is the clear expression of an interesting thought using the right words, and no more.

Who wants to know, and why?

The question can’t be answered meaningfully, unless you want the kind of answers you’ve got above, which, however nice they may sound, are useless to the person who’s struggling to produce “good” writing.

Good writing is accurate communication that makes the reader want to know more. I think that works for fiction and non-fiction.


Second this.

Good writing is, well… you know how when you’re sitting there struggling to come up with a good idea and it’s almost but not quite staring at you in the face but it’s so easy to be, in fact it’s what you’d prefer to be, distracted, and then you look for any excuse…

Well, it’s not like that.

To me, good writing is terse, occasionally witty, and evocative of strong images with plenty of action verbs. I hate overly flowery descriptions that just go on and on without getting to the point of “how does this relate to the story?”. I feel like all too often this habit gets rewarded by indulgent, self-important literary snobs. (don’t get me wrong, there is great literature out there that’s very pithy with a keen sense of flow but it’s not always the rule)

Which is why I’ve gravitated toward screenwriting - a form of writing where brevity is especially emphasized. The advice repeatedly hammered into aspiring screenwriters is literally “cut to the chase”.

It’s the ability to select the correct details and convey them in an engaging way. It’s not enough to know how to merely write descriptively, one also must know what needs to be described. Think about the most tedious creative-writing-101-short-story you ever read. Probably it went on and on about mundane shit nobody cares about (Ok, I get it, he’s got a real affinity for tuna sandwiches) or alternately, it leaves out so much information you can’t even get a firm grasp on the character, much less the character’s context. Too much detail, the reader gets bored. Too little detail, the reader gets distracted.

My 6th grade teacher gave what is IMHO one of the best pieces of advice:

Yes, how to produce it is a separate question - as evidenced by the fact that the number who can do so is much smaller than the number that can recognize good writing.

Before looking at what others may have said, I would offer that good writing is a combination of directness, humor, clarity and , above all else, holding the reader’s attention and not distracting it with undue sidetracks and “calling attention to itself.”

Regardless of the genre, if the “writing” isn’t obvious to the reader and doesn’t get in the way of the subject matter, then it is good. Otherwise it is less than good.

There are too many examples from too many styles to exclude anybody’s efforts as “bad writing” as long as what the writer meant to convey got conveyed.

For me, good writing in fiction is when I forget I’m reading a story. I’m simply caught up in the story itself. I’m not jarred by cliches, obtrusive dialogue tags, unrealistic plot twists, dense and needless description, or other things that break the magic. I’m in the story, transported there, experiencing it.

In short, not Dan Brown.

That’s excellent advice; my first year English professor also gave me very good direction by writing, “WORDY” in red ink on so many of my papers. Use only as many words as you need; leave the rest behind.

I’m just happy when people can maintain a reasonable standard of grammar, spelling, and typing. To/too are not the same thing! Infer and imply are not interchangeable! I have a very difficult time seeing beyond such errors.

Good writing doesn’t make the reader work any harder than necessary. Whatever effort it demands on the part of the reader is rewarded.

Some good writing is clear, concise, direct, natural, and easy to read. Some good writing is more difficult, elaborate, indirect, and self-conscious—but in that case, if it’s truly good writing, it can’t be simplified without losing something of value.

Yeah, I went to Catholic school too.

Something that is a pleasure to read.

Something that makes you want to keep reading it.