Friday, July 6, 2012

Guest Blogger--Barbara Carpenter On Good Writing

Barbara Elliott Carpenter

I'm pleased to have author, Barbara Elliott Carpenter, as a Guest Blogger today.  

                                                          The Eye of the Beholder

     Who gets to decide what constitutes good writing? Critics hand out laurels and brutal assessments with apparent ease. Novels I have found well-written and entertaining have received extremely negative critiques. By contrast, some with rave reviews have left me unimpressed and disappointed.
     All readers have favorite authors. Some, I like for their descriptive prose, colorful description, even romanticism, like Deborah Smith. Others catch my fancy with straight-forward, hard-hitting narrative and dialogue, such as Nelson DeMille. Laura Hillenbrand is unparalleled as a writer of biography/non-fiction. Choosing a single favorite is impossible.
     The criteria for judging a good writer is simple for me. If I forget to edit as I read, the writer has done his/her job, which is to make me forget that I’m reading a book. I become immersed in the story, eager to turn the next page and the next, not wanting the book to end.
What makes the difference?
     After my mother had finished reading the last book of my Starlight trilogy, she looked at me with new respect. “How did you find the words?” she asked. Before I could answer, she continued. “I could do that.” She set about writing her memoirs, pencil to lined notebook paper. We lived 2000 miles apart, but I often asked how her book progressed.
“Oh, it’s coming along.”  Her standard reply changed after a few months. “I don’t have the words,” she confessed.  When she passed away four years ago, we found a stack of papers, hand-written in pencil, with no paragraphing or punctuation, disjointed facts recorded in a kind of “stream of consciousness writing.”
     It is among my prized possessions. One day I hope to convert her efforts into a story that will grip readers with its drama, for her life was certainly that. How will I do it? With words. First I will write a long, drawn-out, wordy account, filled with too many adjectives, adverbs and description. I will put it away for a time before I reread it.
     At that point, I will begin to slice and dice, deleting whole paragraphs and phrases that add nothing to the narrative, not forgetting to save the original. After I’ve worked on other pieces, I will go back to my mother’s story, reworking and editing, adding and taking away. It will take weeks, maybe months, before I have a semblance of what I want.
How will I know when it’s right? The day I can read that story and become immersed in it, forgetting that the petite, blue-eyed protagonist is my mother, is the day I will be satisfied with it. If it is the best I can make it, I won’t care what critics will say. Like beauty, a good book or story is in the eye of the beholder.
     Too many words can ruin a good tale. Too few make it a report. Between the extremes lie honed craft, skilled manipulation, imagination, perseverance and dogged determination. As important as all the above, probably even more, is the love of telling and writing a good story. If no one ever reads what I write, I will still write it, simply for the love of words and writing.
                                                                                                        ~Barbara Elliott Carpenter

Barbara Elliott Carpenter is an award winning writer whose work has appeared in anthologies, magazines and books. Three novels comprise her Starlight Series, and she has written and/or edited two memoirs. Without A Quarter In My Pocket and A Nickel Can of Pork and Beans. Currently, she is a Co-Creator for the Special Occasion book in the new NOT YOUR MOTHER’S BOOK anthology series, published by Ken and Dahlynn McKowen. She is an avid reader, paints, quilts and gardens while still giving attention to her husband, children and grandchildren.


  1. Barbara, I love your point about knowing writing is good when you can read without editing in your head. I so often find myself editing as I read. :)

  2. What a helpful article!! Thank you.

  3. I absolutely agree! I find it hard to turn off my inner editor. If memorable characters and great story can make me do that, then the book will be a great read for me. If it can't, the editor takes over and the book is often lost on me.

    Thanks for the post!

  4. Lovely story. My mother wrote stories of her childhood & early life. I treasure those so much. One that I loved was a true love story about my parents courtship. Many years later, and some years after they divorced, my Mother was living in my home, due to health issues. She found her stories & took back the love story! LOL It never surfaced again, & I regretted not making a copy. Memories of our family history are so dear & precious, as time moves on.