Everyone has their own opinion on this one – What makes good writing good and, conversely, what makes bad writing bad? Here’s my criteria:

The Good

  • Paying attention to the mechanics of writing is huge – no grammatical errors. Like one of my English professors said, “You only get 100% if your paper is perfect”. Well, you only get credit for possessing a talent for writing if you actually write well.
  • Also, paying attention to how words play off of each other and how they sound together really brings the story up a notch. Alliteration, consonance, assonance, plays on words – all these writing devices are your friends, use them! Beautiful diction will always enhance my opinion of a writer.
  • I love being shown things, not being told them outright. So, if a writer wants me to like her protagonist, she’s going to need to prove to me that her protagonist is likable through actions, dialogue, attitudes, and how the character interacts with the world around him/her. Telling me that the character is cool, sexy, awesome, and the like is just not going to cut it with me.
  • Sarcasm and irony – give me a smart-alec narrator and heaping pen-full of droll, deadpan quips and I’m a happy reader… provided that the quips are witty, of course. This usually leads to snappy dialogue that’s fun to read – always a good thing.
  • A really tight plot makes me happy! I love it when there’s a twist that I didn’t expect, but it’s been woven in so thoroughly through the book that I should have. Well-written plot-lines also give us smooth character arcs with believable growth and development.

The Bad (Kinda the opposite of The Good…)

  • Choppy writing style – you know, no sentence variation, cliches, generic phrases and nouns, and the ever-deadly “Favorite Word” (you know the one that crops up at least three times per page). Yeek! Repetitive prose!
  • Careless diction – bland adjectives, too many adverbs, stilted sentences and ostentatious prose.
  • Sudden jumps and skips in the plot or character growth – an angsty teen turning into a strong, courageous leader overnight, for example. Gaps like this leave me scratching my head and flipping through pages, trying to find the sections I missed.

The Downright Ugly

  • Grammatical errors – this is why we have SpellCheck and human editors… there really is no excuse anymore.
  • Abject fawning over a particular character – they’re flawless, selfless, perfect, amazing, beautiful, and utterly gag-worthy.
  • Which leads us to Mary-Sues – characters so flat, they make the prairies look like the Sierra Nevada. All cliches, no actual development, and oh-so-easy to write.