What makes a great writer?

Great writing from a great writer.
Great writing from a great writer.

In her book, Advanced Screenwriting, story consultant Linda Seger asks the question: What makes a great writer? It’s a question we’ve all wondered about at some time or another.

The answer largely depends on what we mean by ‘great’. Do we mean in the colloquial sense of popularity? Or do we mean something deeper and more enduring.

Sticking to the latter sense, a great writer, in my opinion, is one who sheds light on the human condition – someone who reveals a hidden truth about ourselves, but does so in a gripping and entertaining way.

Dr. Seger notes that a great writer is part psychologist, part philosopher, and perhaps, part theologian, as well as being a consummate wordsmith.

As the philosopher the writer asks: Do I examine the world through the lens of realism, idealism, pessimism?

The psychologist might ask: What motivates my characters? Moves them? What do they want? What do they need – is there a difference? How far will they go to get it?

“A great writer endures through the ages because he or she writes about human frailty and nobility across the cultural and temporal devide.”

The theologian asks, where is the good and the evil my story? What is the nature of sin? Indeed, the writer may even ask: is there such a thing as evil, good, or sin, at all?

Places in the Heart, written and directed by Robert Benton, for example, renders a theological theme with a value system rooted in a community sharing and helping each other during the Great Depression. Its psychological theme reveals a portrait of a woman overcoming her racism because her determination, and love of her children, motivates her to do anything to save her family. It espouses an optimism in life rooted in the notion that goodness and morality will prevail despite life’s challenges.

This multi-layering of motivational/belief systems makes this story, and others like it, truly memorable.


Great writers speaks to our times and beyond. They reveal our obsessions, secrets, and dreams, helping us to find the courage to live life nobly in spite of our failings.

Catch my latest YouTube video here!

2 thoughts on “What makes a great writer?

  1. Gerhard Pistorius

    I find find the idea of a great writer being part psychologist, part philosopher, and perhaps, part theologian very insightful and a good starting point for what makes great stories.

    I have recently watched the 55th installment of the Walt Disney classic collection, Zootopia. I come to the conclusion that in the twenty odd years since the Lion king this is the first Disney film to really leave a impression on me as far as story goes. Don’t take my word for it , the film has 99 % on rotten tomatoes.
    This is a great movie because :

    From a philosopher aspect it poses a question such as there are two types of people in this world , Predators and prey( How do we treat each other once we’ve been tagged according to our race , gender or believes) I examine the world through the lens of idealism ( a city where predators and prey can live in harmony)

    From a psychologist aspect
    What motivates the main character (Judy Hopps, a rabbit from rural Bunnyburrow) is to fulfill her dream of becoming the first rabbit officer in the police department of nearby city Zootopia. This goal is what makes this film so much fun to watch ( the crazy adventure of a bunny with the heart of a lion).

    As a theologian, the good and the evil of the story is not reveled until the final act of the film. A mayor conspiracy that is such a satisfying uncharacteristic twist in a G rated film that one needs to see it to believe it.

    Disney is seen as the studio that is to big to fail , with brilliantly written stories like Zootopia it’s easy to see why.

    1. Stavros Halvatzis Post author

      Agreed, Gerhard. The film does explore these layers to great effect, in my opinion too.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *