Don’t Confuse A Good Story with Good Writing

good writingI recently read a book that was so badly in need of editing that I literally dreamed about going through it with a red pen.

Don’t get me wrong. It was a good story. The author could spell (or use spellcheck appropriately) and the grammar was good. There were decently developed characters and an intriguing plot and world. The author is a friend of mine so I really wanted to be able to help promote it and be excited about it. But I had such a hard time getting through it because there were so many things that were done poorly craft-wise that it made me cringe.

There were a few plot things, like elements of the world that didn’t make much sense or weren’t explained well, character motivations that seemed contrived or contrary to how that character ought to act, and that sort of thing, but it was really the craft things I had a hard time with.

Things like contrived action tags. “Don’t do that,” she disapproved. “Honey,” she said getting his attention. “Sorry,” he apologized. “Yes, of course,” he elaborated.

Things like random head jumps to inform the reader what a character is thinking or feeling when we’re supposed to be in another character’s POV or switching POVs for one or two paragraphs without warning and then switching back at random.

Things like telling us the name of a character when the main character whose POV we’re in doesn’t know it.

Things like using the exact same phrase to describe the exact same character doing the exact same thing in two different places.

And so, while I think some people would enjoy the story, I would have a hard time recommending it, because of the writing. Especially those without a discerning eye or newbie writers, I don’t want to condone this kind of writing because I wouldn’t want them to think this is how it’s done. I wouldn’t want them to confuse a good story with good writing.

My point, of course, is that having a good idea or a good plot isn’t enough. You must also have good writing. Take great care with your writing. Take the time to learn your craft. Let your work be read by critique groups. Hire a good editor. Take care that your book is so well done your readers can’t wait to recommend it.


About Avily Jerome

Avily Jerome is a writer and the editor of Havok Magazine. Her short stories have been published in various magazines, both print and digital. She has judged several writing contests and is a writing conference teacher and presenter. She writes speculative fiction, her ideas ranging from almost-real-world action/adventures to epic fantasies to supernatural thrillers.

11 comments on “Don’t Confuse A Good Story with Good Writing

  1. It’s hard reading once you’re a writer. Things that make us cringe won’t bother the average reader.

    What did you tell your friend, and how did she receive the news?

    • I haven’t said anything yet. Debating whether I should, since I wasn’t asked to critique. I bought it to be supportive.

  2. Excellent post! This is also why I didn’t like Frozen, even though my friends thought it was great. (Yes, it’s possible to see lazy writing in a movie, too–especially when they recycle a song from a previous movie [Hercules-also poorly-written] and you get the original stuck in your head.)

  3. One of the many things that Robert Jordan drove me nuts with (besides the braid tugging) was the constant description of the glory of holding the One Power compared to the not holding it. The whole series would be at least a thousand pages shorter if all but a couple of those references were deleted.

    • He was also very descriptive with palaces and settings. Some of that was good because it really gave you a feel for where you were, but it could’ve been toned down a lot and lost nothing.

  4. Yes! One of the biggest pieces of advice I would give an aspiring or newbie writer / author:

    Do what it takes to reach a mental/emotional state where you are willing to hear that your writing isn’t ready yet. Make a commitment to excellence, and what level of excellence you aspire to.

    Then find a few trusted, experienced people (writers, readers, editors — someone who knows good writing) and ask them for an honest assessment. Be willing to pay for it, though you may not need to.

    Keep working on your writing until they say it’s ready for publication.

    When we willingly position ourselves to hear the truth and we commit to excellence, then we can avoid these awkward moments where nice people want to support us but can’t recommend our work.

    • Exactly!
      I had a hard time with that. When I first started, I got rejection after rejection and couldn’t figure out why. And then I got the best rejection ever. An agent told me I had some elements of good craft but other areas begged for fine tuning. Of course, I cried, but then I got busy figuring out what he meant by good craft and fine tuning. I joined writers/critique groups and really took the time to LEARN. A few years later I hired a professional editor to do a manuscript review, because I had gotten to the point where I felt like I needed a professional eye to tell me what I was doing wrong. Some of the best money I have ever spent. It’s well worth the investment now to look back at my early writing and say, “Wow, I have come so far!” and to look at my writing now, and while it’s still imperfect and I have plenty to learn, I can look at it and be really proud of it.

  5. Completely true. Writing is a skill to be learned and honed. Feeling strongly about a tale or loving to read have little to do with being a great writer.

  6. […] so when I’ve been reading critically for Havok and for judging contests. As you know from this post I wrote awhile back, I don’t have a lot of patience for books that are poorly written, have […]

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