This blog post idea popped into my head around 2 a.m., moments after I placed the book I was reading onto my nightstand and turned off the light.
I wanted to continue reading Donald E. Westlake’s “What’s So Funny?” but was just too tired. Only a few pages remained but I couldn’t make it. Not at 2 a.m. No matter how much I enjoy Westlake I couldn’t make it.
I’ve been a fan of Westlake’s comic crime capers for many years and as I settled into the darkness of The Hovel, my book-cluttered Fort Myers condo, I began thinking about a new blog post, this very one you’re reading.
What constitutes good writing?
For starters, it likely doesn’t include using the word “constitute.” But it was 2 a.m. when I first thought about this topic. So please excuse me for initially calling this post “What Constitutes Good Writing.”
I’ve edited that in the full bloom of a sunny morning after a grande dark roast from Starbucks into “What is Good Writing?”
Who decides what is good?
How is good writing measured?
Can it be measured? Should it be measured? And by what criteria? And by who? Or whom?
It’s not a craft of tonnage, as I heard a long time ago.
I’m reminded of a famous 1964 comment from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart regarding an obscenity case.
“I know it when I see it,” Stewart said of obscenity.
That’s true of any reader as well. We know good writing when we see it, or read it. What I consider good may not be what others consider good. It’s like taste in music.
At a recent gathering of the Calusa Round Table, a lunch group of veteran (or really old) writers here in Fort Myers, the names James Lee Burke, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pat Conroy and others flew around the table.
One fellow said, as I recall, Burke is too windy and too enthralled with description that doesn’t move stories forward. I, on the other hand, like Burke and find his writing lyrical.
His use of language is reminiscent of another Southern writer, Pat Conroy, who died recently.
Burke and Conroy are masters of their craft, men who create compelling characters and stories and can describe a scene beautifully.
Others would disagree. That is fine.
Sometimes I’ll read a magazine piece or newspaper column or website article and think, boy, the writer did a great job.
What made it great?
And who am I decide?
I’m not an expert. How many readers are experts?
We like what we like. We think something is good because it’s good.
What makes it good?
And what makes something bad?
I’ve stumbled across some really bad stuff as well as the very good. In the past year I quit reading a couple of historical novels because they were awful. The writing was amateurish. The characters were cardboard, or plastic. The dialogue was hackneyed and unrealistic.
I sometimes click on a yahoo.com sports story and quit reading after one or two paragraphs because the writing is, to use a technical term, gawdawful.
So, what is good writing?
I can’t give a learned, informed opinion, some sort of textbook definition that covers everything.
But here is one test: If it makes you keep reading, or least want to keep reading, at 2 a.m., then it’s good writing.
Oh, after sleeping a few hours, I finished reading Westlake’s “What’s So Funny?”