The Principles of Good Writing

The more self published books I read, the more I want to make sure mine doesn’t suck. Honestly, if you expect people to pay money for a product, you should make every effort to ensure that the novel is worthy.

To that end, I am constantly analyzing the principles of good writing and evaluating my work versus those principles.

Note that these principles are not necessarily universal. What I may consider an important element of a story, you may feel is insignificant. There is no one perfect story that fits every person; tastes vary widely. The point is that each author should keep their goals firmly fixed. If you don’t know what you consider good, how are you ever going to achieve it?

Principle 1 – Do no harm

The vast majority of readers who pick up your book don’t want to see you fail. They want to love your writing, to be engaged and moved emotionally by your work. The best things you can do are not let your writing get in the way of the story and not make stupid decisions. Two keys:

• Produce clean, concise prose
• Make story choices designed to engage the reader

Principle 2 – Create relatable characters

The reader lives the story through the eyes of your characters. The more the reader can relate to the character, the more engaged they are. Two keys:

• Give the character an overarching goal to which anyone can relate, such as the search for love, acceptance, etc.
• Make the character struggle to attain their goal

Principle 3 – Present a series of significant events

A story, in its simplest terms, is a series of scenes. The core of good writing is choosing which scenes to present. Two keys to make each one significant:

• Make each relate to and advance the story
• Make each not boring by filling it with tension and emotion

Principle 4 – Filter the events through the emotional lens of your character

Events have no relevance to the reader and, thus, no impact. To make your writing engaging, you have to make the reader feel the importance of the event. The best way to do that is to show the event through the eyes of the character and clue the reader in at each step regarding the character’s feelings about what is happening.

Principle 5 – Give the reader an emotional payoff

If you’ve followed the principles above, your reader knows your character’s goal and has experienced your character’s struggle. They’re rooting for your character to succeed. They want to experience that success. Give it to them.

Tomorrow, I evaluate my novelette, Abuse of Power, in light of these principles.


One thought on “The Principles of Good Writing

  1. Pingback: Evaluating Abuse of Power Based on the Principles of Good Writing | Brian W. Foster

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