To me, bad and good writing is determined based on storyline, characters, themes, grammar, and more.
A good book usually has the following:
Details that immerse the reader without confusion, redundancy, and with the proper use of showing vs. telling. There should also be a collection of relevant details when describing something (specifically characters or what something looks like). For example, readers don’t need to know every single thing in a room unless that something is important to understanding the character or if it’s used. Also, details should only include what your character knows, so if your character isn’t good at estimating measurements, they shouldn’t be describing their crush as 6’11 unless they’ve personally been told such a thing or you’re narrator is omniscient.
Dialogue sounds natural, as if it is a real conversation people are having. This should also include slang or accents that said characters use.
Each scene is relevant to the story and continues the character’s journey. This leans into filler scenes or chapters and takes up too much space. Get to the point.
If a story bounces from character to character, the voices are different. But even if it’s told in a singular perspective, the voice should be natural sounding and—if your character is supposed to be different from you—different from your own.
And finally, though probably not the actual final thing, the story shouldn’t include many grammar, spelling, or punctuation issues. The first few drafts are fine to have such things, but when looking beyond a first or second draft, these should be easier fixes along the way.
With some writers, I have done a bit of research on them or know of them through social media and at that point, I usually know if they got lucky. Christine Riccio, for example, is a lucky author. The first book she was able to get published was the first book she ever wrote (which most agents say trying to publish your first ever book is a red flag because you’re not skilled enough yet). Plus, she was able to get it published after three years—like, from the time she started writing it to the time it hit shelves was three years. And to many, that’s not an easy feat. When I went to read it (which it’s called Again, but Better), it definitely read like a first novel to me. Not a first draft, but definitely something that wasn’t ready yet. You could easily tell she still needed tweaking here and there.
But with others, particularly authors I don’t have a clue of, I usually know from the start because their writing immerses me instantly. V. E Schwab’s Vicious, Courtney Summer’s Sadie, and A. K. Mulford’s High Mountain Court are just a few examples. You can definitely tell they’ve been writing for a while.
Yes. Many times.
Oh, of course! Veronica Roth is a perfect example of this. Absolutely adored the Divergent trilogy but when I picked up Carve the Mark I seriously couldn’t get into it. I was so confused on so many levels.
Annoying main characters, narrators (usually the main character if written in first person or third limited) sounding too sophisticated or being too childish (like if they constantly make bad decisions even when they know not to), cliched or overused tropes.
I usually mimic the good stories or whatever is good within the novel. As for the bad ones, I avoid doing whatever possible to make it that bad or I use it as inspiration fuel to figure out what I can do to not make it crappy.
For example, I wasn’t a fan of the Cabin by Natasha Preston, but it actually made me want to write a murder mystery with similar themes. There were a few things I hated that made the novel horrible, and that was:
- You weren’t at a cabin for very long.
- The killer was obvious.
- The killer’s motive was silly.
- There was insta-love, and it included a random stranger who the character knew nothing about.
What I did to change this:
- My novel took place at the cabin for the entirety of the story.
- I tried to not make it look obvious. I probably bombed this, though.
- The motive wasn’t silly, though I might’ve bombed this, too. I tried to make it meaningful.
- There was no insta-love. There wasn’t much romance, but whatever romance there was, it was with the MC’s best friend who he had a major crush on.