I was always an avid reader. Long before I ever considered becoming a writer, I couldn’t understand why some stories put me there in the scene while others felt almost as if parts of the story were dry or missing or undeveloped.
Many of my readers have expressed in their reviews that my stories feel real. That the reader feels as if he/she is right there with my characters. They feel what my characters feel and see what my characters see.
Here is one example from a Goodreads group where I published a short story.
Ica: What a stunning début in WSS! I am very impressed with your skill in building the setting and keeping your reader guessing. Your characterization is delicate and also practical. Raul, Gina, and Joseph’s development was just enough to make the following events believable, but wasn’t excessive.
So what makes good writing?
Here is my humble opinion: Dialog and Description contribute equally to good writing.
Dialog: I believe it’s important for a character to talk naturally, the same way a real person would. However, before you put any words into your character’s mouth, decide and develop a personality for that character. Do you want your character to be strong, in control, weak, pathetic, sarcastic, rude, kind, emotional, straight up evil, etc.? Of course in books, just as in real life, some characters change traits. If, and when that happens, the way he/she talks should also change. Brian Klems and Nancy Kress talk extensively in this article about character personality, change, and motivation so I will not repeat what they say here. http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/4-ways-to-motivate-characters-and-plot
Description: Now let’s talk about the narrative part of the story.
Show the readers everything, tell them nothing. ~ Ernest Hemingway ~
Hemingway refers to this as “reader’s dignity” meaning that the reader should be given respect, trusted to develop a feeling for the meaning behind the action without having the point painfully laid out for him or her.
Sandra Brown, whom I have great respect for and think she is a great editor, once told me that a good story has to have specific sensory detail: action, smell, taste, sound, and feeling.
I highly agree with both, Sandra and Hemingway. When you hand an emotion on a platter to your reader, his/her brain goes into a thinking mode instead of a feeling mode, skipping over the emotional part.
Here is an example: It snowed heavily all day. Signs warning of road closure were everywhere. His windshield was frozen, he could no longer see the road, and he feared that in these wintry conditions he might end up in the ditch.
Clearly, there is a lot of snow on the road, there are signs telling him that the road is or will be closed, and the man is afraid of ending up in an accident. I haven’t painted that wintry picture in the reader’s mind and though he/she knows that my character is afraid, they can’t feel the character’s emotions. I told the story and left no room for emotion or imagination.
Now look at this example: Giant snowflakes continued to drop from the gloomy sky and splattered against the windshield then froze, making it hard for the wipers to keep the windshield clean. Up ahead blinking lights warned of road closures. His were the only tires to blemish the slick, white blanket. Dammit! The last damn thing he needed was to send his car flying off the road. Dry-mouthed, he swallowed hard and gripping the steering wheel firmer he squinted, trying to locate the road.
I still conveyed all the above except that I didn’t tell, I showed the scene. Notice how I painted the picture of my character being afraid, without actually using the word afraid.
With this being said, you can’t show every single scene in your book. Why? Let’s look at the examples above.
I told the scene in 38 words and I showed it in 80. All scenes are relevant to the story or else they should not be there.
However, some scenes and moments are more important than others. If you try to paint every scene vividly in the reader’s mind, besides the fact that you’ll have a very, very, long novel on your hands, important scenes that are supposed to stand out will get mingled with all the others. In other words, you will have a novel without any highlights, which will likely leave your readers’ minds the moment they read that last paragraph on that last page.