by Monique Franz
Do you know what made Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner brilliant authors? Simplicity and authenticity. They rebelled against the pretentious styles and wordy sentences of their time, and people loved their work. Readers don't want literary fluff. They want good stories and stories that “keep it real.”
The ingredients of a good story are a strong plot and point of view, a distinct character goal and arc, credible relationship dynamics and dialogue, smart plot points and pacing, and the art of writing “in scene." If you want to grow as a writer, study these things. Novice writers mistake quality writing for crafting impressive sentences and using good grammar.
In graduate school, my mentor chastised me for using a stuffy, journalistic voice in my writing. Apparently, I was so used to code-switching in the office that I code-switched in my fiction too. And when I submitted my first novel to a publisher, he called me out on my wordy attempts to sound poetic. I encourage you to avoid the same mistakes. Lose the urge to sound impressive. It never does.
Readers want stories—especially BIPOC stories—to have an authentic voice. And I’m not saying you should write only in street vernacular, thinking it sounds genuine (that can backfire). I am saying, lose the fancy sentences. Don't try to conjure Toni Morrison’s lyrical prose. Instead, craft a good story. And when it comes to putting words together, keep it simple and keep it real.
Monique Franz, published playwright, novelist, and senior director of Kinsman Quarterly, earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University, where she studied fiction and screenwriting. She later served as an alumni liaison and adjunct who taught seasonal writing workshops. Having decades of experience as a teacher and mentor, Franz enjoys equipping underrepresented writers to be effective storytellers.