What is Good?

“Good writing is like a windowpane.”
                              George Orwell

I have reached a point where I hate to give reviews or critiques. I read a book or a manuscript, and I love it. Someone else comes along and tears the writing apart. I find fault with someone’s writing, and the story goes on to win awards or become a best seller. Critics say Fifty Shades of Grey and The Da Vinci Code are poorly written; yet millions of copies of those books have been sold. The Goldfinch won the Pulitzer Prize. According to Amazon, 13,593 (as of today) readers gave the book positive reviews. But 8,219 readers, myself included in that number, gave it critical reviews, many stating the book needed a good editor, one willing to cut a third of the prose.

Books that we now call classics have been rejected multiple times by editors and publishers who are supposed to know what’s good.

So what is good?

Literary writers consider commercial fiction inferior. Genre writers consider most literary fiction obtuse or pompous or without meaning.

I think most writers believe the story they’ve just finished and sent off to a publisher (or have self-published) is good, maybe as good as any of the great books. Even with the work brought to a critique group, the writers may expect a few changes (minor ones, of course), but they don’t expect to be told to dump a chapter or that their writing doesn’t make sense. (It obviously made sense to them.)

So who is right? Or is there a right or wrong?

I really don’t know.

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12 Responses to What is Good?

  1. Diane Burton says:

    When my book group read Unbroken, I was the only one who thought it was boring. In fact, I wasn’t going to finish it until my daughter said it got better. Wrong. The last 1/4 of the book was interesting, though. My point is not every book pleases everybody. That isn’t to say my opinion is wrong and the rest of the group is right. Life would be boring if everyone thought the same.

  2. Melissa Keir says:

    I think you are right. Good is based on each of us. It’s what we enjoy and what tugs at our heart. I do think that as authors, we shouldn’t be punished for giving reviews. Even if my mother in law reads a book and I do, we probably won’t give the same review. We are two different people.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Where I find it difficult, Melissa, is giving my fellow writers reviews. In my heart, I want to give them all 5 stars. In my head however,I don’t always feel they deserve all those stars. But others might think it’s a great book, so I end up not giving a review.

  3. Reviews are rather subjective. But if a book has a vast majority of good reviews, we tend to consider it quality writing. Of course, this is a problem for those of us who write for small publishers. We get very few reviews.

    • Maris Soule says:

      You’re right, Jacqueline. The larger publishers can get their author’s books reviewed by big name authors and review magazines. That’s rarely the case for writers published by the smaller publishers and almost impossible for self-published books.

  4. Sue Myers says:

    This is why there are more ice cream flavors than just vanilla, even though it’s the most popular. I read a book recently that I had to work at it to finish. The story was good, but the writer’s style was difficult to read, too much internal thought. So how would I rate it? I guess I go back to the old saying, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything”.

    • Maris Soule says:

      That’s how I feel, Sue. I’d rather not write a negative review because it may simply be the story or the writing style didn’t fit my tastes.

  5. ann bennett says:

    Individual tastes do account for what is good and what is not. A good story does prevail over the quality of writing.

    I’ve always been a big reader. I have a preference for non-fiction. However, the best fiction I have read over the years tends to be a classic or midlist writers.

    Bestsellers miss some zest. I don’t know if that is the American in me rooting for the underdog or the book being constructed to please too many people.

    Reading blogs, I have come across many books I would never have considered reading. Even with genres I am not a huge fan of, a good story can keep you reading.

    I just finished “The Crows”. Great Book!

  6. D A Barker says:

    If you enjoyed writing the book it’s good. If you enjoyed reading the book it’s good. i think that’s all that matters