What Is Great Writing?

At this point in my career, after having seven mainstream novels published by Story Plant, the big question is not, “what is good writing?” Rather, it is “What is Great Writing?” With 20/20 hindsight, I’ll highlight some lessons valuable to me in my own writer odyssey.

I recently received a gift from my nephew, Keith, who happened to meet author Pat Conroy at a Charleston book-signing for his latest Bestseller, The Death of Santini. Keith knew he was my favorite author, so after Keith bragged a little about his National Bestselling author aunt Susie, Pat signed a copy for me, closing with these words, “For the love of writing…go ever deeper…and deeper…and deeper still. Much love, Pat Conroy.”

Wow! As a writer, I got it. It was as exciting as the time I found my voice when writing my novel, HOMEFIRES. Developing my individual voice, which is composed of three basic elements: Narrative drive, subordination, and focus.

It isn’t simply about the mechanics (spelling or character choreography), that make a great writer, though those, too, are important. Number one goal is to satisfy the senses. When we think back on great books we’ve read, we don’t recall how intellectual or “brainy” they were. No, we remember the loveable characters who made their way into our hearts, such as Jane Eyre and the Great Gatsby. Sure they were flawed but they were oh, so real and had marvelous, redeeming qualities.

It is love—not intellect—that makes a book great.

Finding out why you write is essential in becoming a great writer.  For example, to me, writing is a calling, if you will. Through my child’s death, I found purpose in reaching out, through writing, to inspire others to keep on keeping on during life’s pot holes and gulley washers. I write real life, without sugar-coating, though I aim for family friendly substance.  Stuff happens in my stories, just as in real life. If folks live long enough, bad things happen. My stories encourage the old adage, “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.” Then, when one reaches the mountain top, he/she will know what victory is. Offering hope is a key ingredient in developing dynamic characters and plots.

Early in my career, I learned not  to wait on spurts of “genius” or “inspiration” to  write. Fortunately for me, a college professor shot down that misconception that many writers harbor. Dr. Smith assigned us to write one hour daily. His theory was that doing it consistently, we would eventually automatically produce. I’ve since lived by that premise with great results.

Another valuable tool for writers is the “show, don’t tell” concept. Whenever possible, create action and dialogue to tell your story. Don’t depend on narrative all the time. Of course, sometimes narrative is essential for filling in background and description, but that should be used sparingly and in short increments throughout.

I’ve made a rule to never criticize other writers or books. I will never be guilty of maligning a fellow author. If I cannot give a good review, I won’t give one. Sorry, but to me, the subjective liberty taken by some to malign a sincere author’s efforts grieves me. And in the end it is only one opinion but it may prevent others reading the book who might love it. Sad but true. Period.

Pat Conroy’s advice to “…go deeper…ever deeper…and deeper still” resonates. It should be our mantra. As writers, we hold the key to open hearts and souls  through the shaping of words and ideas. We have the power to offer hope to the hopeless, love to the loveless, victory to the defeated, and life to the dying. Embrace it!  HAPPY WRITING! 

Emily Sue Harvey
Emily Sue Harvey is a South Carolina Christian who writes Southern mainstream fiction under Story Plant, a secular publishing house. She loves happy endings but warns that her stories portray real life with all its rotten stumps and gulley-washers. Yet she manages to paint them family friendly. Emily Sue’s main emphasis is to show, through example, that there is always sunshine above dark clouds. Look for the soon release of her sixth novel, Cocoon.  www.emilysueharvey.com

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