Ever buy a burger or a sub and have a mystical experience? Ever have a quick meal of something that is normally ordinary and mundane and have it be amazing? Have you ever had the flavors and textures just hit all the right notes, the varying degrees of quality in every part of the whole just synchronize until the usual discordant mess becomes one crisp, continuous sine wave of deliciousness? Writing is a little like that. Great writing is like lightning in a bottle, a rarity even for the best of us. I don't think I've ever had a moment I would consider 'great'...yet, but I can concoct something in my head that is great, so I'm halfway there.

But what about bad writing? Good and bad are subjective terms, but there are things that definitely put work on one side of the fence of the other...the subjective part has to do more with how far from the fence it's put. But much more writing is mediocre or just plain awful than is good or great, so it is useful to recognize it for what it is.

The quickest litmus test for writing quality throughout a piece is to make sure every scene does one of four things:

1) Advance Action

2) Create Atmosphere

3) Advance Plot

4) Develop Character

If each scene in your story does one of those four things, you are on the right (write?) track. Generally, the more of those four bullet points which are done simultaneously in each scene, the more efficient and tighter the writing. The rhyme and metre used to convey these points is the other half of the battle, but even without stellar wordsmanship, you can rest assured your work is on the right side of the fence (or at least only a few inches away from the border).

Another symptom of cantwriteoutofapaperbagitis is too much or too little detail. Or, to put it another way, inappropriate amounts of detail. For example:

1) Joe ate.

2) Joe had breakfast.

3) Joe had a coffee and danish.

4) Joe had black coffee and cherry danish.

5) Joe had lukewarm black coffee and a stale cherry danish from the vending machine.

6) Joe had 85 degree coffee and a stale danish made with artificial cherry flavoring from the vending machine in the lobby.

7) Joe drank 85 degree coffee from a brown ceramic mug with a chip on the lip and ate a three-week-old artificially flavored cherry danish from the Diebold vending machine in the lobby of the hotel.

In every one of these cases,  the same thing is begin stated that is stated in number 1: Joe ate. There may be times to use sparse language as shown in examples 1 through 4. There may be times to use flowery description as in 5, 6 and 7. If you are trying to convey how much Joe's life sucks at the moment, use more description to accentuate the suckiness. If such things aren't important regarding the plot or plight of Joe's circumstance, be short and sweet. Or leave it out altogether. The Enterprise had bathrooms, but we didn't need to know about every on of Captain Kirk's logs, if you get my drift.Oftentimes, descriptiveness paints a bolder picture for a reader. But sometimes, it can just seem indulgent and tedious. Tickle every one of a reader's senses, don't beat them with a club.

It's great to recognize writing that's done well, but if you read or see something that strikes you as satanically awful, do your best to analyse why it's that way. And keep in mind this is in regards to narrative only. Dialogue is another monster entirely and will require an in-depth look in a blog post all its own.

As a final note, I want to mention a definitely five-star burger for your brain. I've found time to binge-watch the television series Breaking Bad on Netflix. For those of you who are unaware, the show follows a man named Walter White as he transforms from milquetoast chemistry teacher at an Albuquerque high school to the crystal meth kingpin known as Heisenberg. The show is exceptionally well written and acted by all parties involved. All the characters are well-developed and the plot keeps you guessing. I recommend it highly (though it's not for kids).

Have a great week, everybody!