Keys to Good Writing


Bruce Robert Coffin here, fresh off a very successful Maine Crime Wave where writing was the subject of the day.

Aspiring authors often ask, how do we do it? How do novelists capture the essence of being on the pages of a book? How do we write characters that readers care about? What is the secret?

I imagine if you posed that question to a hundred authors you would undoubtedly receive a hundred different answers. The short answer is, there is no magic formula that works for everyone. Good writing comes from practice. Period. But, as you may have guessed, there is a great deal more to it.

One of the most important components of good writing, regardless of genre, are the experiences we share, or long to share, that allow us to identify with the readers of our novels. The very things that speak to each of us, love, hate, jealousy, loss, heartache, will also speak to our readers. We can all identify with the raw emotions of life. Even life’s sweetest moments can be described and written in such a way that they touch us on a personal level. Haven’t we all experienced that tart, juicy snap as we bite into a freshly picked apple? The delicate and warm touch of a lover? Something so humorous that we couldn’t stop laughing? That electric and intoxicating first kiss that left us weak-kneed with excitement and anticipation? Or the overwhelming sense of grief that envelopes us following the loss of a loved one? Each of these experiences are a part of life. And, in my opinion, good writing is about sharing those experiences.

Whether the novel you are writing is set in the past, present, future, or even on another planet, take the time to populate your story with characters who are capable of real emotion. Insert into your story honest descriptions that reflect the way you feel when you experienced these moments in your own life. Building familiar and believable connections between the readers and your characters is an essential part of good writing. Most of us have, at one time or another, experienced flat one dimensional characters, either in a book or on screen, and if you’re like me you probably found yourself not caring about what happens to them. This is precisely why it is imperative that we write honestly in order to establish that connection. The good, the bad, and the ugliness of life should be reflected within the characters and stories we create on the page. Using your own experiences will add a layer of depth and realism to your writing that only you can render. Absent believable and relatable experiences, and accompanying emotions, your story will likely be nothing more than words on a page.

Until next time. Write on!

About Bruce Robert Coffin

Bruce is a retired detective sergeant with more than twenty-seven years in law enforcement. At the time of his retirement, from the Portland, Maine police department, he supervised all homicide and violent crime investigations for Maine's largest city. Bruce also spent four years working counter-terrorism with the FBI, where he earned the Director's Award, the highest honor a non-agent can receive. He is the bestselling author of the Detective Byron Mystery Series from HarperCollins. His short stories appear in a number of anthologies including The Best American Mystery Stories 2016. Bruce lives and writes in Maine.
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7 Responses to Keys to Good Writing

  1. Liz Milliron says:

    Great advice. I think this is really the heart of the phrase “write what you know.”

    • And if you don’t know, ask someone who does! In the murder mystery I am writing, “Sugar Pie and Moonbeams,” several characters are arrested for night hunting. Now I never hunted, let alone at night, but the incident was integral to the plot. I knew I had to find out what the consequences of being found guilty carried. I made a note of it, but later that night I watched “North Woods Law,” and sure enough, a perpetrator was caught night hunting, and the narrator conveniently provided me with exactly what I needed: three days in jail and a $1000 fine.

      A coincidence, I realize, but one not to be relied upon. True, you don’t have to research minute details, but accuracy is important and assures your credibility. You never want to distract a reader with obvious bogus information; you want your reader to believe you and your story. –Connie Weissinger Tucker

  2. says:


    Sent from my iPhone


  3. Laurie Graves says:

    Yes, great advice. Never too old to learn!

  4. sandy says:

    Yes, I like this. Honesty. Honesty. Honesty. Thanks, Bruce!

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