You Know You Are Reading Good Fiction When …

Hey Chris, nice picture. You crack me up.

You guys are putting out some great stuff on fiction. I don’t know who else reads this blog but I am really taking some of this advice seriously. Keep up the quality.

I was hoping and planning on reporting my great strides on my own fiction writing but … not today. The problem has been my shortage of time. A topic for another week.
Instead I will share some of the things I wrote down this week about what I enjoy in fiction when I read. I aspire to understand some of these well enough to duplicate with my own writing. We have some listing formats appearing in this blog and since I also like lists I will tell you SIX things [far from exhaustive] I personally jotted down for future reference for my own fiction writing. See if you agree.

  1. Anything that gets a reader’s head nodding is good writing.

You know when the book talks about a certain kind of person and you just start nodding your head in agreement because you know someone or several people just like that. I think this pulls the reader into a sense of reality that he identifies with.

  1. Forcing readers to go back to try and figure out who is who – is bad writing.

I have had to do this with a couple books. I wasn’t looking for clues in a fun way, but frustrated that I didn’t have a photographic memory and it seemed like the author expected to tie in something that I couldn’t remember. I don’t like it when I am forced to work when I’m trying to enjoy a good read.

  1. Fast reading is good writing.

Kind of the opposite of going back to put things together is when certain parts of the book flow so easily and the conversations are so natural to follow you zip through the pages. You aren’t reading, you are following the events and situations and the conversations. It doesn’t even feel like reading. I love that. In slower parts of the book you know you are reading and find yourself tempted to start scanning the pages to hurry up and get to a better part. It feels like listening to a boring high school teacher. You just don’t really want to be there. Still you read because you are afraid you might miss something you need to know about later.

  1. Anything that makes a reader respond out loud is excellent writing … as long as it is not an open criticism of the writing.

“No way!” You are so surprised that someone did something or happened to them that suddenly you unconsciously blurt out. If you did it in a movie theater you would cover your mouth surprised it slipped out. If you have your readers making exclamations out loud, you are really doing a wonderful job at writing.

  1. When readers worry about characters more than their real life family and friends, you know you are making real characters.

Have you ever read a book and almost everything else in your life felt a little bit like an interruption? The fictional characters in the book you are reading become so important to you that the real people in your life are becoming 2-dimensional by contrast. Imagine the power of such character development and story line. Sometimes a character can become so important to you, you read to spend time with that person; to be with them, to watch them, to enjoy them. This is star writing for sure.

  1. Americans and plenty of others, like to see the unrepentant bad guy get what’s coming to him. We seem to have an appetite for it. Don’t disappoint your readers too much but letting him off.

At first I thought about not putting this in on this blog because it is for Christians and I thought “Am I feeding the wrong appetites?” But I overcame my concerns with thoughts of Bible stories [true accounts] published for our observation to know with certainty that injustice may have a life, but it will end. This is an important conviction from God to all of us.

I certainly want to see the bad guy get something that satisfies my craving for wrongs made right. It delights me when it is done in a way that is unexpected and creative. I can’t think of a more classic example of a story that could actually be entitled “Poetic Justice” rather than “The Book of Ruth”. If you don’t know the story, read it this weekend.

The master writer is a master for a reason. Just like we can all talk about why we all love certain songs; turning around a writing a song to evoke the same response is extremely rare and reserved for either a master or someone very inspired. Still the artist must pursue perfection.


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