How do readers decide if something is written well? I think the most important thing is, did I understand it? Then one can consider style, humour, tone and all the rest.
It’s a lot easier to write a confusing sentence than a simple one. Here are some quotes from authors (and a grammatician) to keep you motivated when the going gets tough! I found the first three while I was preparing last week’s post on style guides, they are in the introduction to the Economist’s introduction.
Mark Twain described how a good writer treats sentences: “At times he may indulge himself with a long one, but he will make sure there are no folds in it, no vaguenesses, no parenthetical interruptions of its view as a whole; when he has done with it, it won’t be a sea-serpent with half of its arches under the water; it will be a torch-light procession.”
Long paragraphs, like long sentences, can confuse the reader. “The paragraph”, according to [H. W.] Fowler, “is essentially a unit of thought, not of length; it must be homogeneous in subject matter and sequential in treatment.” One-sentence paragraphs should be used only occasionally.
Clear thinking is the key to clear writing. “A scrupulous writer”, observed [George] Orwell, “in every sentence that he writes will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?”
Finally, Ernest Hemmingway was accused by William Faulkner of using crude and simple language, to which he had this reply: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”
Happy writing and good luck!