Great Writing


I don’t know how to make the step from good writer to great. There’s an intangible quality to art that separates good from excellent and I yearn to discover it and apply it. I’m sure there’s a lot to be said for practice and dogged determination, but there’s also a magic that makes some writing sparkle. Where can I get me some of that pixie dust?

Recently agent Rachelle Gardner, in her blog, Rants & Ramblings, turned the tables and invited her readers to rant about the publishing industry, and quite a number of us did. Towards the end, however, thoughtful commenter Patty made the statement I quoted above.

I agree about the intangible quality, the “something” that makes good writing better and better writing great. Can it be captured? Isn’t that what all of us writers aspiring to publication would like to believe? I know I’ve been there. Just give me the five secrets, and I’ll work to get them right. And when I submit, if some editor could just please tell me which of the five I haven’t yet mastered.

The thing is, the more I tried to adhere to the five or ten or twenty-five secrets/rules/principles of writing good fiction, the more I saw my writing morph into blandness. And what did the editors want? Something fresh. Unique. Original. They want a story with a high concept. They want characters with depth. They want stories that hook you early and don’t let you go.

But great? If Patty really means great, which I have no reason to doubt, I don’t know that a killer premise, wonderful characters, and a page-turner plot adds up to great. Probably sale-able. Why, maybe even a best-seller. But great?

I think great writing takes what few Christian novelists talk about—time. Not just time coming up with a story. I actually think that can happen fairly quickly. I’m talking about time to craft a story, looking at the sentence structure and word choice as well as the character development and plot structure.

Mind you, I’m not saying there aren’t writers doing this. I can think of several off the top of my head. But I don’t think very many are talking about it. I suggest a good bit of our writing instruction is geared toward beginners and perhaps intermediates. I went to a particular conference some time ago and noticed that for the “advanced” and “professional” tracks, the topics were about marketing, promotion, spiritual substance. All good, but no craft. As if we in Christian fiction are content with average, not great.

Maybe if more of us asked the question Patty asked …

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Published in: on May 9, 2008 at 3:23 pm  Comments (4)  
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