I’m increasingly of the mind that, when discussing the quality of a work, it’s the little things that actually push it from “good” to “great” (and before that, maybe even from “decent” to “good”). I think back to my favorite movies or games, and it’s the ones that really pay attention to detail that stand the test of time.
Morrowind is good because of it’s gorgeous graphics and interesting questline. It’s great because of the little adventures here and there, the side stories, the personalities of the people who have nothing to do with the focus, and the little details, hints, and callbacks scattered throughout.
Going from “good” to “great” might actually be a bigger challenge than making something “good” (and that might even apply to going from “okay” to “good”). It’s not about creating likable characters: that’s a far easier task than creating deeply nuanced characters.
And that’s my biggest challenge as a writer. I can form a sentence. I can occasionally deliver a decent metaphor or a solid line of prose. The story fits the structure, the pacing is acceptable, the characters are likable enough or dislikable enough–and all of this was after the first draft or two, more than two years ago.
I certainly had a book two years ago, and it was not the worst thing an avid reader would ever read. Since then, it’s become a grind to work out all the little kinks, to try to tweak everything to bump it up to the next level.
But increasingly, as I read, watch, and game with a keener eye, I think the payoff for that time and attention to detail is real.