What makes good writing good and bad writing bad?

btt  button Booking Through Thursday is a weekly meme centering on the subject of books. The question for this week is one I suggested.

Various book memes usually have a question concerning what draws you in to a certain book or author and what turns you off, makes you put down a book unfinished or avoid that author in the future. Almost always people will answer “good writing” to the former and “bad writing” to the latter.

But what makes up good writing and bad writing? Since I suggested this a few weeks ago, I was going to have a really well thought-out response ready. But, alas, I haven’t spent much time with it and am late to the computer today. So just off the top of my head, here are my thoughts of elements of each.

Good Writing

A plot line that is not too simple or too obscure

Characters that I can relate to

Characters with depth, not cliched or one-dimensional

Punchy or beautiful sentences without a lot of wasted words or rambling unnecessary explanations or description


Something of truth and possibly beauty that resonate with us even though the times, language, customs, etc. are different

Evokes the feeling of being right there

Believability, even in a fantasy

Bad Writing

Cliches or stereotypes in plot or character


Excessive prepositional phrases or linking verbs (He is…or she was…) — action verbs usually make for stronger sentences and show us what the character is feeling rather than telling us.

Transitions that don’t make sense, leaving the reader confused

Foul language. Besides being offensive to me personally, it’s just unnecessary and even lazy in some instances when there are so many great words available.

Most of those characteristics would apply to fiction. Bad non-fiction to me is too or encyclopedic or academic (I don’t know why even textbooks have to seem so dry and dead, but that’s another topic); good non-fiction leads the reader along from point to point in a logical yet interesting fashion. It makes the reader think rather than just disgorging information.

Even still I don’t feel I am really adequately conveying what exactly constitutes good and writing, what engages me or bores me in a book.

What do you think? What makes up good writing or bad writing to you?

(Updated to add: though this meme focuses on books, I thought I’d share a couple of blogs that stand out to me because of the beautiful writing: Lisa Notes and Wrestling With an Angel.)

8 thoughts on “What makes good writing good and bad writing bad?

  1. I think some of the things you listed for fiction, such as clarity, good transitions, and tight, punchy sentences that don’t ramble can apply to non-fiction too.

    This is a great question. Thanks for suggesting it.

  2. My answer is more pedantic. I don’t really count characters or plot. For me, the writing is mostly about style and grammar issues. If I can ignore the writing itself and focus on the story, the author has done a good job with the writing. If bits of the writing are jumping out at me, then I’m more likely to be annoyed (and eventually give up, if things get bad enough… no matter how good the plot may be).

    I answered in more depth on my blog.

  3. Interesting you should say that about foul language. My Dad often said that when somebody swore a lot it was a sign of lack of intelligence…an indicator that they had a very limited vocabulary.

  4. Awww, I was just getting ready to leave a comment and then noticed you gave me props that I don’t deserve. But thanks anyway.

    You did a great job with your answers, Barbara; you’d make a great English teacher. 🙂 I think the more we read, the more we’re able to distinguish between good and bad writing.

    My dad always said the same thing that Diane’s dad did (above). And I thought it was original with him. 🙂

  5. Initially I couldn’t stand foul language but I must be getting used to it because I don’t feel anything any more. But I am particular about the things you have mentioned in good writing.

Leave a Reply to Mary Ann Langan Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.