For the Culture: Discerning Good vs Bad Writing
In today’s DIY and get-it-done-fast world, quality takes a backseat to quantity. Who cares if your books are full of typos, poor story structure, and to hell with logic as long as you have a big catalog and make a little pocket change? While you can make a million with a bunch of badly written books and a great marketing scheme, your work won’t be taken seriously - and many "writers" don't care if they are. It's no longer about the culture or the craft for many, as they aren't lovers of the written word. They're lovers of easy money and followers. No judgment. It's only an observation.
There are loads of articles and posts debating the topic, Quality or Quantity. And, whilst I am a lover of the written word, I also am a lover of my culture - my Black girl magic, child of hip hop and trap music culture. I was born and raised in Central Florida, home of the famed Zora Neale Hurston festival. I read the Bluest Eye at the age of fourteen and learned to mind my mouth when tossing around hurtful and not helpful opinions. I learned the Earth can be cruel to marigolds. A woman/writer/wizard of words taught me that my words had consequences. They could be more far reaching than I'd ever know. I sat in my purple bedroom on Kozart Street and she was wherever she was (weaving together provocative life lessons) when she taught me - words matter. Story structure and literary devices matter. I got that message, thanks to Toni Morrison and Pecola.
Can we all agree, writing is an art form; therefore a matter of personal taste. I like the Migos. Are they the greatest of all time? Are they worthy of Outkast status? Hell no. But, I love Quavo all the same. Likewise, I read books and dislike them, but I can acknowledge when the writing is good. Have you ever read a book and loved the story but felt that the writing was weak?
Walter Mosley, acclaimed AND bestselling author of more than twenty five books, including Devil in a Blue Dress and the Fearless Jones mysteries cared so much for good writing, he wrote a book on it. This Year You Write Your Novel is an enjoyable and quick read, with loads of great tips.
I'll list a few that resonate with me in my quest to represent well written books by black authors.
Learn the Elements of Good Fiction:
The Narrative Voice: I'm talking, 1st Person, 3rd Person, etc. Don't skip through ALL of them in a single barely 50K word novel. It's confusing and unreliable.
Showing and Telling: It's OK to do both, but know the difference. Don't tell me everything. I'm above average intelligence, let me figure it out (or at least form my own opinion).
Character Development: This is a big one. No BELIEVABLE character is one way.
Clarity and focus: Everything should make sense. Don't let your readers get lost or have to reread passages to figure out what’s going on. Focus. Sticks with your core idea. Don't chase every idea you have. It's too much.
Ideas and themes: What's your end game? What the message you want to drive home? Make it clear and stick with it.
Voice: Don't water down your voice or try to sound like someone you're not (or your audience isn't). This is what sets you apart from all other writers. It’s your unique way of stringing words together, formulating ideas, and relating scenes to your readers. But don't dumb it down either. Your readers deserve better. Elevate them, enlighten them, challenge the way they see themselves.
Word Choice: My editor hits me up with this all the time. If you MC is a street educated used car dealer, is he using the word, alighted? Transcendent? Afoot? Come on now!
Grammar: Yes, the big pink elephant in the room. Many of us want to wish this one away, but for a piece of writing to be considered good (especially great), it has to follow the rules of grammar. Break them once you've mastered them and them be smart about it. Be deliberate. Break them ONLY when you mean to. (See Zora Neale Hurston and Robert Beck AKA Iceberg Slim).
So, in close. You only care about selling books, not how "good" they are. You don't care about the art form or the culture? Cool. I for one (among many others) do and I will continue to study, read good stuff and put forth my best effort to uplift my people. I will continue to write about the diversity in our race and community. I will work my ass off to produce thought provoking, emotional and challenging
work. Why? Because I am my brothers (and sisters) keeper.
Be well and write on.