WHAT IS GOOD WRITING? by Nancy Springer


Specifically, nouns and verbs.

More specifically, concrete nouns and action verbs.

Creative writing is all about images. The root word of “imagination” is “image.” Imagination is the ability to make mental pictures. We help children toward this ability by starting them off with picture books.

Writing, I embark on a process so peculiar it is almost paranormal; if we were not so accustomed to it, we would call it mental telepathy. The process is, I project a kind of picture show in my mind, but instead of drawing pictures about it, I make clusters of little marks, more commonly known as letters forming words. If I do my job well, then someone unknown to me will be able to look at the little marks, decode them via the process we call reading, and — get this –the same or very similar picture show will take place in her or his mind.

For this they pay me. A bizarre way to make a living, yes?

But there it is, and it’s best achieved through those concrete nouns — picture nouns — and active verbs. Abstract nouns and linking verbs won’t do it. “A person loves something,” conveys no picture. “The new mother swaddled her baby with her arms,” works better, although far from being great lit. The right verbs and nouns are more important than all the adverbs and adjectives any writer could lavish on the wrong verbs and nouns. Luckily, the English language has adopted a huge number of synonyms. In Spanish, for instance, the only word for donkey is burro/burra (masculine/feminine). In English we have donkey, jenny, burro, onager, jackass, jennet, hee-haw, Jerusalem pony, jack, ass, Missouri nightingale, and Rocky Mountain canary.


Backtracking to the premise: words convey images. But the flip side is, our vocabulary dictates and limits what we imagine. This is why the largest change in the English language since the fifteenth century took place due to feminism. No matter what Samuel Johnson said, “his” does not convey the same image as “his and hers,” let alone “hers and his.” Say “mankind,” and the image is masculine. But say “humankind or “humanity” or “people” to include women and children in the picture. “Waitress” gives a feminine image; “server” is gender neutral. It’s a wonderful thing how our language adapts and adopts to keep up with our cultural needs. Not that “smart phones” are really smart, but keeping up with linguistic change is never stupid — especially not for a writer.

The most constantly important element of good writing is diction. Which means having a large vocabulary from which to choose.

In the beginning was the word.

About the Author:

Nancy Springer has passed the fifty-book milestone, having written that many novels for adults, young adults and children, in genres including mythic fantasy, contemporary fiction, magical realism, horror, and mystery — although she did not realize she wrote mystery until she won the Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America two years in succession. DARK LIE is her first venture into mass-market psychological suspense.

Born in Livingston, New Jersey, Nancy Springer moved with her family to Gettysburg, of Civil War fame, when she was thirteen. She spent the next forty-six years in Pennsylvania, raising two children (Jonathan, now 35, and Nora, 31), writing, horseback riding, fishing, and birdwatching. In 2007 she surprised her friends and herself by moving with her second husband to an isolated area of the Florida panhandle, where the birdwatching is spectacular and where, when fishing, she occasionally catches an alligator.

Find Nancy online at

http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780451238061,00.html Dark_Lie_Nancy_Springer

In this gripping psychological thriller — smart, chilling, and unrelenting — Nancy Springer establishes herself as an exciting new suspense writer with a distinctive voice and some surprises up her sleeve…

To their neighbors, Dorrie and Sam Clark seem a contented couple in America’s heartland, with steady jobs, a suburban home, and community activities to keep them busy. But they’re not quite what they appear to be. For plain, hard-working Sam hides a depth of devotion for his wife that no one would suspect. And Dorrie is living a dark lie — beset by physical ailments, alone within herself, and unknown to those around her, following the comings and goings of the sixteen-year-old daughter, Juliet, she gave up for adoption when she was hardly more than a child herself.

Then one day at the mall, Dorrie, horror-stricken, sees Juliet being abducted, forced into a van that drives away. Instinctively, Dorrie sends her own car speeding after them — an act of reckless courage that pits her against a clever, depraved killer, and draws Sam into a dogged, desperate search to save his wife. In a confrontation that unites mother and daughter in a terrifying struggle to survive, Dorrie must face and conquer her own secret, tormented past.


  1. Bonnie-Ann Pabst Zierold says:

    Nancy……Your brother, Ben and I are high school classmates. He posted your information on FB and as an avid reader, I am always on the ‘look out’ for a good ‘read.’ Greatly enjoyed Dark Lie! Bonnie-Ann Zierold

    • Nancy Springer says:

      Bonnie, thank you so much for being a reader and for letting me know you enjoyed Dark Lie. People like you mean the world to me.


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