The Well Written Story v The Good Story


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Thread: The Well Written Story v The Good Story

  1. #1

    The Well Written Story v The Good Story

    Inspired by a response by Sam in another thread

    Quote Originally Posted by Sam View Post
    Writing well is half the battle. You can write the most technically sound novel imaginable and it won't matter a damn if there's no story, no conflict, no hook. A great novel employs both great writing and great storytelling.
    Obviously the ideal state is for a novel to be both an excellent story and well written. But, let's pretend that's not possible.

    Let's say somebody who is only barely competent as a writer happens to be a great storyteller. They're truly brilliant when it comes to narrative, character, everything that exists beyond the page, but the actual prose is straight journeyman, grade-school-level stuff.

    Let's say another writer exists then, one who is a truly gifted writer but happens to only be an average sort of storyteller: That is, they can 'tell a story' to the extent they can deliver according to formula. There's nothing wrong with their writing, certainly nothing you could point to, but the ideas, characterization, concept is all pretty much in line with what is already out there. There's nothing that feels new, nothing interesting. However, again, the writing is REALLY good. That is, it's technically flawless, inventive, beautifully poetic at times.

    Which of these two scenarios is more likely to yield success? Are either of them? Assume for the moment that it is not possible for either of these two individuals to improve dramatically... In essence, can fairly rough writing be overlooked by the average writer if there is a solid underlying concept...or are great stories completely enslaved to competency?

    At what point does a great story become undermined by poor writing skill (if any)? At what point (if any) does great writing skill become undermined by an average or worse story?

    Is it possible to be such a great storyteller that you will still be successful even if you can't even master basic grammar? Is it possible to be such a great writer that you will still be successful even if the actual things you are writing about are generally considered dull as ditchwater?
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  2. #2
    It's difficult to answer that without sufficient research, but I'd venture to say there a lot more best-selling novels that read like a 10-year-old's first draft, than there are expertly written books bereft of great storytelling.

    If I had to choose, I'd choose to be a great storyteller. Imagination is one of the rare skills that arguably cannot be learned, but you can learn to become a better writer with enough practice and time.
    Last edited by Sam; December 21st, 2020 at 12:22 AM.
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  3. #3
    I require a novel to be very well-written and involve basic story-telling competence.

    There are best-selling novels with prose that insults my intelligence.

    But without at least decent story-telling, a novel will descend into unreadable mush.

    I dislike both skeletons and bloated bodies. The skeleton writer is more likely to be successful today than the bloated writer.

  4. #4
    I can only speak personally, but on the whole I would stick with a great story, good writing is the sort of thing I will pick up and put down between reading the stories, entertaining, but basically unimportant.
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  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    Inspired by a response by Sam in another thread



    Obviously the ideal state is for a novel to be both an excellent story and well written. But, let's pretend that's not possible.

    Let's say somebody who is only barely competent as a writer happens to be a great storyteller. They're truly brilliant when it comes to narrative, character, everything that exists beyond the page, but the actual prose is straight journeyman, grade-school-level stuff.

    Let's say another writer exists then, one who is a truly gifted writer but happens to only be an average sort of storyteller: That is, they can 'tell a story' to the extent they can deliver according to formula. There's nothing wrong with their writing, certainly nothing you could point to, but the ideas, characterization, concept is all pretty much in line with what is already out there. There's nothing that feels new, nothing interesting. However, again, the writing is REALLY good. That is, it's technically flawless, inventive, beautifully poetic at times.

    Which of these two scenarios is more likely to yield success? Are either of them? Assume for the moment that it is not possible for either of these two individuals to improve dramatically... In essence, can fairly rough writing be overlooked by the average writer if there is a solid underlying concept...or are great stories completely enslaved to competency?

    At what point does a great story become undermined by poor writing skill (if any)? At what point (if any) does great writing skill become undermined by an average or worse story?

    Is it possible to be such a great storyteller that you will still be successful even if you can't even master basic grammar? Is it possible to be such a great writer that you will still be successful even if the actual things you are writing about are generally considered dull as ditchwater?
    It pains me to say that I think the journeyman writer may have a measure more. I say this simply based on experience - Fifty Shades comes to mind, as do a plethora of mediocrely-written books. There are a lot of median-to-below-median readership levels out there, and if booksellers can sell to them, and if they can overlook (or more likely, remain unaware of) the issues, that's what will happen.

    Some of my editing clients are my clients precisely because - often by their own admission - their grammar needs work. However their stories and ideas are often very inventive, and some have reasonable reviews on Amazon (though I'm never sure how genuine a mechanism this is). I think there's a partnership element to it, with the writer and the editor working as a team of equals, but ultimately, as Sam says, you kind of have to have both ideally to really stand out. I don't think it takes many SPaG problemsor instances of weak prose to fully derail a potentially good story. Eventually it gets to a point where readers can't discern it; it has failed to make the leap from writer's head to legible prose.


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  6. #6
    FoWF Terra's Avatar
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    The fiction stories I have in my head are always so much bigger than what I am able to express in written form ... put a microphone in my hand or a grandchild on my lap, and the stories come alive. I want to learn how to write those stories so they are alive on paper without losing their essence. "I hope this is something that can be achieved", she said, laughing out loud to "dull as ditchwater". I've read the 50 shades series and the first book imo was a much better story than the others, but I'm a sucker for a love story of any kind so that didn't surprise me.

    One author that comes to mind is Elizabeth Gilbert who captured my attention in Eat, Pray, Love but perhaps that's because I'm on a similar journey and could easily relate to 'her' story. Then I read the Signature of All Things, and was enthralled by the 'story' of Alma -- was it the character development that I got lost in, or Alma's 'story' -- was it well written, or is EG a pop culture author? City of Girls was next, but this time I listened to the book on audible and at first I couldn't tell if it was the story I enjoyed, or the narrators voice. By the end though, I'm certain it was the narrator's voice that held my attention. Pretty sure I would have set the book down 2/3 through had I been reading a hard copy -- the story fizzled and I got tired of 'how' it was written.

    Some sci-fi fantasy are so elaborate I can't get into the actual story -- I'd rather watch the movie. Romance and erotica are stories aimed at my feelings and emotions, so how well it's written can be 'meh' and I don't really care LOL

    A good book for me is either when I can't put it down, OR I put it down because I don't want the story to end.
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  7. #7
    WF Veteran Tettsuo's Avatar
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    I'm rolling with the good story. I don't pick up a book because it's well written, I pickup books to experience something new, fun and thoughtful. I'm not checking for SPaG, interesting metaphors and nice turns of phrase when I read, I'm checking for cool ideas and fun storytelling. I've never stopped reading a great story because there was a spelling error, but I have put down books that had an extremely weak story, but was written expertly.
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  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Tettsuo View Post
    I'm rolling with the good story. I don't pick up a book because it's well written, I pickup books to experience something new, fun and thoughtful. I'm not checking for SPaG, interesting metaphors and nice turns of phrase when I read, I'm checking for cool ideas and fun storytelling. I've never stopped reading a great story because there was a spelling error, but I have put down books that had an extremely weak story, but was written expertly.
    Ever a sucker for well-crafted prose, I have put down books that were just unstylish or too mediocrely written. FBOW there is something in me that craves clever and perceptive phrasing. The story was probably perfectly okay but for me it dangled out of reach, separated by a veil of meh.


    Hidden Content Monthly Fiction Challenge


    The first cut don't hurt at all
    The second only makes you wonder
    The third will have you on your knee
    s
    - Propaganda, "Duel"

    *

    Is this fire, or is this mask?
    It's the Mantasy!
    - Anonymous








  9. #9
    As long as the prose is not so bad as I am driven to gouge my eyes out with a soup spoon, I'll take a good story every time.

    Pretty words that say nothing are of no interest to me.

  10. #10
    You don't define good writing.

    I have been surprised, again and again, how often a popular book will do something nice with punctuation and grammar. Would Harry Potter or Twilight be as good or popular with ordinary punctuation and grammar? I doubt it.

    So, suppose you have something interesting happening in your story. Then you tell it wrong -- bury it in the middle of a paragraph could reduce the interest by a half, spoiling it with advance knowledge or wrong perspective could be even more devastating. So then the person who knows how to write well only has to do half as much to work to be just as interesting.
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