Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

What is good writing?

What is good writing?

Is it brevity?

Is it beautiful language that flows – a silky smooth river of words meandering downstream from the premise to the inevitable conclusion, swirling around obstacles in pretty whirlpools that delight, drifting ever further to the waterfall finale?

Good writing is writing that strikes a chord in the reader, making the reader want more – and that can happen in many ways.

It often seems to happen through the expression of a great idea in a way that allows the reader to grasp it quickly, though sometimes it happens by positing a question or problem for the reader to solve, provided the question or problem is one that the reader finds interesting.

Poetry often offers imagistic phrases with ambiguous meaning that we find pleasing even though we’re not quite sure what the poem means. This is an example of the silky smooth river of words.

Hemingway offers the opposite – a terseness that might qualify as minimalism. And yet many of us find his work pleasing as well.

We writers should probably be trying for some middle ground, trying to order our words in such a way as to please the reader, but also staying out of the way of the story. When you are reading a novel and come across a particularly beautiful sentence or a particularly awful one, you are pulled out of the story for a moment and have to re-insert yourself into the make-believe. That’s usually not a good thing.

Practice the craft of writing every day, temper your skills on the forge of repetition, but always remember you need to offer the public a compelling reason to engage in the act of reading your work.

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