“Good” Versus “Great”: A Matter of Nuance

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.

Revising is Miserable, Learning is Great

With my “Wednesday” goal passed without a champagne cork flying across Twitter, I’m not letting any secrets out when I note I’m still not quite done revising.  I’m painfully close to having a work done that I feel ready to put on Amazon, and yet, I’m so far from it.

In 2014, I finished a complete first draft of my first novel.  Within a year, I had finished the first draft of a second, significantly better novel.

And then things dragged to a crawl.  My first draft of my first book was an incredible learning experience, but it needs so much work that it’s almost worth starting with a blank page.  My second book, on the other hand, is entirely salvageable.  But man, is salvaging time-consuming and difficult!

I’m a big gamer, and I feel like what makes the difference between a “good” game and a “great” game is often a matter of nuance–and I can’t help but feel that applies to books as well.  Presently, the story is coherent, is writing isn’t the most bland I’ve seen, the structure suffices, the characters grow and change, the major plotholes are smoothed over.  All the same, the story could use a little more tweaking, the prose could be a lot better, the pacing isn’t perfect, the characters could use a little more nuance and a little more growth, and there are still things that could use some explanations and/or retooling.

Combined with knowledge gained from reading other authors and studying books on the craft, it’s a teachable moment: the more you understand your character arcs, story structure, and how to put together a sentence, the better it all comes together the first or second time through.

I’m a far better writer than I was in 2014, but I’m suddenly aware of how much more there actually is to learn.  It makes me think of the classic game Morrowind: when you level up, it’s quick to point out there’s still a ways to go.  There’s quite a bit of wisdom in the pithy quotes of those old level-up screens!