Was it good for you, too?

From an article last September, in discussing Obama’s choice of Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending as bedtime reading material:

Having the president of the United States read your novel is the ultimate test of the principle that good writing makes every reader think it’s about them. In this case, that inclusionary principle washes back over the president. Barnes’s exquisitely tempered novel is a long way from the White House – the protagonist is a Brit who has failed at most things – and yet there it is, the common strand, the arc of empathy: the story of a man going back over his life, weighing the choices he made and their long-range consequences, wondering, at the end of the day, if he did the right thing

Everyone has a different feeling about what constitutes good writing. For me, it is the writer’s ability to tell the truth, no matter what the genre. It’s that moment in any book – whether wild fantasy or romance or vampire chick lit or anything else – which makes you say, ‘That’s it!’ A moment of language or dialogue or observed behaviour which is true to us.

That, and the ability to tell a good story.

So what makes writing good for you? That elusive sense of truth? Empathy regardless of your own position? Skilled or innovative use of language? Or something else entirely?


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