On Writing: The Most Important Element of Good Writing

“Be yourself; no base imitator of another, but your best self. There is something which you can do better than another. Listen to the inward voice and bravely obey that. Do the things at which you are great, not what you were never made for”

–  Ralph Waldo Emerson


Today, I’d like to revisit an old post of mine.

My veteran readers might recall that a little over a year ago, I blogged about what I believe to be the two most important ingredients in writing a novel. In that post, I concluded that the two essential elements in crafting a good novel were thought and emotion.

In my own words:

“Thought goes beyond just using words, though. It also means putting thought into your story. I can’t define this too well other than to say it. Putting thought into story. Things like the complexity of Severus Snape’s past, or the elaborate explanation of crimes in Sherlock Holmes. These required conscious effort on the authors’ parts, and it shows.

“It’s my belief that people are quite wrong if they assume emotion is strictly for fiction writing and memoirs. Fact-based books without even a drop of emotional appeal don’t read well, and while their information may be correct, there tends to be limited success in conveying said information to the painfully bored reader. My AP World History textbook, loathed even by my patient teacher, is a perfect example of this.”

I then concluded that a story is well-told if it includes balanced elements of thought and emotion. My derived equation:

Thought + Emotion= Good Writing

However, that was a year ago, and my opinion has since shifted slightly.

Last year, I queried a fantasy novel I’d been working on since the age of thirteen. After three months, I got a full request from a literary agent who admired the story but ultimately passed on the chance to represent it.

One full request out of what…forty queries? At the time, it was an impressive accomplishment for me. I was seventeen, for Gods’ sake. But I think I knew, deep down, that the story just wasn’t quite good enough to make it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still pleased with it, and I believe I can get it published someday. But it was missing something. I knew it then, and now, I see what it was:

A message.

Stick with me.

Let’s flash forward to a few months after the full request. August 2013, the last few weeks of summer before my freshman year of college. That was full of some crazy emotions for my friends and I. So naturally, I decided to write a short story with similar themes. Then I broadened my scope and decided to try writing a short story about the ups and downs of high school, in general. That short story became a novel.

I know, ‘high school novel’ is as generic as store brand milk. But the general niche of the novel doesn’t define it, and I promise, the story is more detailed than I’m making it sound. But my point is this: I wrote the novel centered around how confusing everything is during that last year between adolescence and adulthood. I created characters who act and feel like I do.

I wasn’t just writing to entertain, or to show off with flashy battle scenes. This time, I was writing a book so that when teenagers read it, they could think to themselves, “wow, I’m not the only one who feels all the crap I feel.”

And that’s what’s really driven me with this newest project. I want other people to read it so they can point to the page and go, “YES! Someone understands.”

Fun fact: This GIF also represents my reaction to "Fifty Shades of Grey"

Fun fact: This GIF also represents my reaction to “Fifty Shades of Grey”

That, I think, is the most important of writing: having a message. Not just writing a flashy story to entertain people, but rather, having something you want to tell them. In my case, it’s, “you aren’t the only one who’s overly nostalgic, or super awkward.” I go on Twitter and see fellow teenagers who are like, “I wish some nights lasted forever” or “I think I’m the only one who hates it when people change.”

And I want to throw this unpublished novel at them (gently) and say, “Look! Here’s a story about that! Here are characters who feel the same way you do!”

So, that’s what I think the most important ingredient of writing is: a message. You could also label this as a theme. Something you want your readers to know you believe. And hopefully, something they can relate to.

Therefore, I’d like to amend my previous formula:

Thought + Emotion= Good Writing

Or, more accurately, I’d like to expand it:

Thought + Emotion= Inspiration

Inspiration= Good Writing

Of course, this is all strictly my opinion, and the last thing I want to do is make anyone reconsider something they’re writing. But I do think that the presence of genuine inspiration can be a powerful factor.

Case in point, I recently began querying this new project, and the very first response I received was a full request.

Well, that’s a little better than the fortieth try, at least.


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