what I call good writing

There are essentially three reasons I will like a book:

1) The writing is beautiful.  If the writing is lyrical, or the prose almost reads as poetry, or if the writer has great diction and uses sounds to her advantage, I’m captured.  When an author does a dance with words and creates images that burst like berries on the tongue, I’m sold.

2) The plot is fascinating.  I love books that have twists and turns and surprises.  I don’t need them to be action-packed, just interesting, with interesting scenes and a great storyline.

3) The message is profound.  When the story tugs at my heart or opens up my mind to new ways of understanding something, the book touches (and sometimes changes) my life.

Some books fall under one of these categories, and it is enough to make me love it.  For example, Annie Dillard’s book For the Time Being is beautifully written (for that matter, pretty much anything she writes is!), but there is not really a plot to it, nor did its message truly change my life.  Harry Potter has a thrilling storyline that completely pulled me in, and the series also has a wonderful theme of good versus evil, but I wouldn’t say that Rowling (in those books) is a lyrical writer, although she does have her moments!  Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard is an allegory, and as such, the plot is pretty obvious, but the message deeply touched me and wrenched tears from me left and right.  As you know, The Chronicles of Narnia are my absolute favorite for their fun plots and the deep truths in them, but the writing is not as beautiful as some other things Jack Lewis has written.

To me, some of the best writers are those who combine all three of these elements.  Some of the best examples I have of this are The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (gorgeous writing, super fun storyline, excellent message), C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy (the writing is so masterful it makes me want to curl up inside of it, the plot is riveting, and the takeaways are tremendous), Peace Like a River by Leif Enger (literary writing at its very finest, interesting characters and storyline, an underlying message that is like a rock to stand on), and The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle (breathtaking writing, intriguing fantasy plot, message that lingers long).

Your turn.  What makes you like a book?  Are you drawn to one of these three reasons over the others?  What are your best examples of books that fit these categories?

3 thoughts on “what I call good writing

  1. All of these things, but characters are definitely the thing that hooks me. People that feel and talk and breathe inside a story; that’s what keeps me coming back. That’s what I remember after a story’s over. One book I found particularly compelling was The Outsiders, by S. E. Hinton. She wrote it when she was 15, and she wasn’t a great writer by any means. Her plot was kind of weak, her writing too emotional. Her characters, however, were phenomenal. I felt like I was reading about boys I knew. When a character died, it was like losing a personal friend.
    By the way, you should read it if you haven’t already.(:

    • You know, Mary, I actually debating adding characters as a fourth reason! For example, I love John Steinbeck books, even when they don’t really seem to be ABOUT anything, simply because I get wrapped up in the characters. But I decided that since characters alone didn’t make a book my favorite that I would keep it off my list. Perhaps I was wrong!

      And yes, I love The Outsiders. 110% brilliant!

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