It doesn’t really matter where I’m reading what. It can be on my desktop PC from the Internet, in a magazine, or a paper book (I still don’t own a tablet, iPad, Nook or Kindle but my husband does). To get my interest and keep my interest the article, poem, story, or book has to have something. It doesn’t always have to have a lot of something, but it does have to have at least one thing that grabs me and holds my interest. It can be as simple as that I like the author and just want to see what the author has to say. Or the premise of the story interests me. Or it speaks to one of my pet peeves. I have many. And who doesn’t like commiserating with a like mind?
But in general, and especially when I am reading something by an author with whom I am totally unfamiliar, there are probably five factors that will get me reading and keep me reading.
Opening Remarks and First Paragraphs
The first couple of lines or the first paragraph has to grab my interest. This is truer of a work of fiction than an opinion piece or educational article. In those cases, I am more apt to give it a few paragraphs to make its point and get my interest. But generally, if it doesn’t hook me right off, then it’s probably a lost cause.
In an article, the first few lines should set the tone for what follows and give some indication of where it will all end up. As a corollary, the last few lines should reiterate the opening remarks. In this way, one knows that the author has had a specific point to make, worked her/his way through it in a relatively logical fashion, and come to a conclusion. Basically, that’s Writing 101.
Blogs can often have a tendency to ramble and end up somewhere totally removed from where they began. There is nothing wrong with that in a personal blog. A DIY or instructional blog might be a different case. But an article or short story, in my opinion, should be cohesive and have a point. And it should make that point well.
Grammar and Punctuation
I’ll be quite blunt. Bad grammar and bad use of punctuation put me right off. There is a difference between being judging and being judgmental and in this case I’ll admit that I am being judgmental. Not paying attention to using good grammar and good punctuation seems to me to be lazy and inconsiderate. I do, however, make allowances for authors for whom English is a second language.
Good punctuation helps to foster good understanding of what is written. Periods end thoughts so that we can move on to the next one. Commas separate phrases so that we get pauses that help us to organize our thoughts. Semi-colons connect related issues that might not stand well on their own. Word order can confound or astound. Good grammar and punctuation just simply make reading the piece effortless and more enjoyable.
I have much the same to say about spelling as grammar and punctuation. Ooh, I am so critical.
Glaring spelling errors, just as errors of grammar and punctuation, take me right outside of what I am reading. Suddenly, I am no longer immersed in the topic or story. Instead, I am trying to “fix” what is wrong. Sometimes it cannot be fixed and I cannot understand what is written. If it is an article (the medium does not matter), I will very likely drop it at that point. If it is within a fiction novel, I will usually continue with the hope that all will become clear at some point. But I’m not always happy about it.
There are so many either cheap or free spell checking programs out there that I really can’t see the reason for spelling errors to persist. Of course, someone will come along and find one in this. As good as the spell checkers are, syntax and homophones and homonyms are still beyond most of them. Where is artificial intelligence when you need it? Nothing really substitutes for a good proof reader. And as I have learned, it isn’t always the person who wrote the piece.
I won’t go as far to say that content trumps all the other considerations, but sometimes it comes close. At least for me it does. I’ve read and enjoyed novels that my husband has put down because they were so poorly written. And he’s done the same. His tastes are pretty general as are mine, but he tends to like action/adventure novels more than I do. I tend to like science fiction and fantasy novels more than he does. I’ll excuse a lot if I like the story or the topic.
But basically, without a good story or premise or topic, you really don’t have much to go on. The characters need to be engaging as well. The author needs to create understandable characters with whom the reader can relate. Or at least empathize.
Writing well isn’t just about the mechanics of writing or having a good plot. It’s also about the art. Good chefs everywhere have always known this. It doesn’t matter how wonderful something tastes. If it doesn’t look appealing, no one will ever even try it. Presentation is everything. And that is where craftsmanship comes into play.
How a writer strings the words together, how they build mental pictures of events and characters is a very important aspect. Also, when crafting an opinion piece, if your prose falls flat or if you string words together with little regard, you are not likely to get many people sticking it out to the end and your point will be lost.
For me, craftsmanship is all about making it fun to read. Of course, I leave out of this discussion the things I read in order to educate myself about something. In those cases, I have the desire to learn something and as long as I can get the facts, I don’t always care how they are presented. But there have been a few educational articles that I have read that were extremely entertaining. I consider that a bonus.
When I started this, I wasn’t sure I could come up with five things. But I did end up with five things that I think make for a good read. Not four and not six … five. And thus I have stayed true to my title and come back around to my opening remarks. How about that for Writing 101?