Honesty in Writing

Lately I've been doing a lot of thinking about what separates good writing from great writing. There are probably many things, really. Things like picking just the right details and knowing how to paint a larger picture with them, skill with sentence structure and an almost lyrical ability, and creating a strong enough conflict to sustain the plot arc.

But the longer I write, I'm convinced that one of the absolute most important qualities of "great" writing is honesty. This is also one of the hardest things for writers to do, isn't it?

To create a great book, you have to put heart on the page. You have to put vulnerability in the words. You may even have to hurt or to feel things you don't care to feel. The events in your book don't have to be biographical or true-to-life, but the feelings your book evokes do.

For my newest book, for instance, I'm brainstorming a story that involves a girl who has lost her house. Have I ever lost my house? No. But I can imagine it. I've evacuated for hurricanes before. I've watched the news, wondering if my house was still going to be standing when I got back to my neighborhood. I also have a tendency to resist change in my life. So it's very easy for me to imagine how terrifying it would be lose something of that kind of significance.

I've realized, as a reader and as a writer, that the stories that really stick with me are the ones where the characters' emotions and thoughts seem real. Where even if the plot is completely different from my own life, I can identify on a deeper level with what's going on. The first book of Robin Jones Gunn's Katie Weldon series even had me in all-out tears the first time I read it. It's no secret any of you blog readers that I love Robin's books, and in particular, the Christy Miller Series. Reading Katie's story felt like having a reunion with old friends. That is the kind of connection I want to build with my future readers. I want them to forget for a few moments that these characters aren't real because the characters feel more real to them than their own friends.

Books that really make an impact are the ones with characters we can imagine ourselves as being. They don't only seem real. They seem like us.

It's only through honest writing, however intimidating that vulnerability may be, that we can connect with readers and make a lasting impact on their lives.

Can you think of any stories that have touched you by their honest prose? How can we write this way and create characters who touch the hearts of readers?


  1. Love this, Ash. I agree completely. One of the best things about literature is how it probes my emotions and makes me see new perspectives, to consider what I would do in a certain situation. As a writer, I want my readers feeling that way too.

    1. Well-said, Linds! I agree. So many times have I read a book and thought, "I want to have this effect on readers with my own stories." And as for what you said about the different perspectives literature offers, I JUST had that discussion with my students last week!