I’ve been thinking a lot about the issue of what makes a novel or work qualify as being well-written. I recently read the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, a series that has received a lot of criticism for not being well written. Having read the series, I do agree with that point. The chapters are long with story breaks in them for many plot points that can come off as trivial or unnecessary. That said, however, I still think the series makes for a good read because the story itself, as well as the characters, are interesting enough to warrant a read from beginning to end.
If you look on my bookshelf of favorite authors, you would probably come across a few that have been similarly criticized for not being “good writers.” But what qualifies someone to be deemed a “good writer,” and more importantly, who is to judge “good writing” from “bad writing”?
I look at Ernest Hemingway as an example. His works have been praised as being prime examples of “good writing.” I agree that Hemingway is a good writer. When I read one of his books, I can see his mastery of prose illustrated throughout. Despite this, however, I’m not going to read Old Man and the Sea in my spare time because, to me, it’s not an interesting story. Yes, it’s one of the literary classics and I respect that; but I’m still not going to reach for it when I’m looking for something to read.
I think when people assess whether or not a writer can be called “good,” they need to take into account the actual story being told. By that, I don’t just mean the symbolism, imagery, figurative language, literary devices, etc… being employed. What I mean is if you sat down with someone and started telling them about the story, what happens in it, the characters, the world(s) it takes place in, etc…whether that person would think, “Hey, the story sounds interesting. I’d like to know more about it and give it a read.”
Bottom line, there’s more to being a writer than sentences, transitions, grammar, etc. There’s a story that’s being told independent of those things. And as reader, I value the story more than whether or not the author demonstrates, say, a consistent verb tense throughout. Yes that is important, but it’s the story – the independent, organic creation – that’s even more important.