The Well Written Story v The Good Story - Page 2


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Thread: The Well Written Story v The Good Story

  1. #11
    WF Veteran Squalid Glass's Avatar
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    Genre is a big determiner. Literary fiction is all about technique and theme. Popular fiction is all about story. The terms "high-art" and "low-art" come to mind, as snobby as those may be.
    Last edited by Squalid Glass; December 22nd, 2020 at 06:48 AM.
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  2. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by EmmaSohan View Post
    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.
    It's funny you mention Harry Potter, because that was actually one book I had in mind with this topic.

    To me, Harry Potter is extremely 'ordinary' in terms of writing. Part of that is because it was written for children, obviously, and I suppose you could extend this stuff to YA books generally: They're almost never examples of 'good writing' so much as examples of supreme storytelling with decent, albeit simple, writing. It's even more acute when you're talking more middle grade type books.

    Something like R.L Stine's 'Goosebumps' series is obviously pretty primitive as far as writing but the man is an excellent storyteller. He is particularly excellent as a children's storyteller. However, reading his adult horror books (Red Rain, specifically) it's clear that his actual writing is pretty limited (there's a lot of kind of hammy dialogue, the emotional depth of the characters is a bit lacking, the descriptions are fairly basic -- kind of budget Stephen King) and, quite honestly, it doesn't really read much like a book for adult. Some of that is possibly due to confirmation bias -- we expect writers to sound like their prior work (reading JK Rowling's 'adult' novels has a similar effect) but I think there is, unfortunately, an element of some really good storytellers aren't very good writers.

    Likewise, I feel like I encounter a decent number of obviously talented writers who actually aren't great at telling a story. This seems particularly true in literary fiction. Stuff like Virginia Woolf's 'To The Lighthouse' is a masterclass in writing craft but the story itself is so basic it almost doesn't resemble one.
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  3. #13
    I just finished listening to the Harry Potter while at work. It's a great story that takes place in a wonderful world and I like the characters. But, there are some serious plot holes and truly awful tropes. Yet, I find it entertaining.

    Shakespeare is considered a writer of beautiful prose. But, he's wordy and I want to scream "Just shut up and tell the story already!"

    Asimov is a great writer and a great story teller. He's a natural. But his writing before he became a big name and the editors gave him free reign is better than his later stuff.

    Luis L'Amour is a great storyteller and his writing style, in turn, is as raw and refined as the frontier here wrote about. He too was better before the editors gave him free reign.

    An author doesn't have to write well to tell a good story. However, I think an author has to have a good story to tell to write well. Nothing can kill a good story faster than poor writing.

  4. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    To me, Harry Potter is extremely 'ordinary' in terms of writing.
    The following ends with probably the most important sentence in the book. Three words. If you look at the thought and detail that went into this passage, it is anything but simple. The author slows things down and gives it a lot of emotion.

    What they're saying," she pressed on, "is that last night Voldemort turned up in Godric's Hollow. He went to find the Potters. The rumor is that Lily and James Potter are -- are -- that they're dead."
    Dumbledore bowed his head. Professor McGonagall gasped.
    "Lily and James . . . I can't believe it . . . I didn't want to believe it. . . Oh, Albus . . ."
    Dumbledore reached out and patted her on the shoulder. "I know . . . I know. . ." he said heavily.
    Professor McGonagall's voice trembled as she went on. "That's not all. They're saying he tried to kill the Potters' son, Harry. But -- he couldn't."
    Trembled would probably count as a word that makes that boring sentence come alive.

    At it's best, punctuation and grammar helps create the story. How good is the story by itself?

    "I heard that last night Voldemort went to Godric's Hollow and killed the Potters."
    "It's true. He also tried to kill their son Harry, but for some reason he couldn't."
    Modern Punctuation and Grammar: Tools not Rules is finally published and available for $3 Hidden Content . Should be mandatory for serious writers, IMO. Italics, Fragments, Disfluency, lists, etc. But also commas and paragraph length. Discussed use of adverbs, and ends with a chapters on the awesome moment and the grammar of action scenes. Description at my Hidden Content

  5. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by EmmaSohan View Post
    The following ends with probably the most important sentence in the book. Three words. If you look at the thought and detail that went into this passage, it is anything but simple. The author slows things down and gives it a lot of emotion.
    Yes, it's good writing. However, it isn't great writing -- it's a great story with great characters that is written competently.

    This may be where we run into issues writing/storytelling being treated as a dichotomy because, well, they're obviously not really separate at all. You may quite reasonably ask 'if it's a good story written competently, isn't that 'great writing'?" And the answer is...yes. Logically, it is.

    Imagine a car that drove 1,000,000 miles and counting without ever once breaking down or experiencing a single problem. A car which had comfortable seats, great fuel economy, just about checked every 'functionality' box there is. Is that the greatest car in the world? Well, sure, it is...until I tell you it looks like this:





    And that's essentially the problem: Great writing isn't just about functionality. The above car may be the greatest car in every sense we would ordinarily expect to measure one, but something about it stops us from calling it a great car.

    Part of it is aesthetics, obviously. But also...what about the other things we might want in a car? What about speed? What about power? What about the feelings we get when we drive it? Are those things not important parts of establishing a car's greatness? Of course they are. Or, at least, they can be, depending on what we want in cars.

    And that is why when you ask people what's the GREATEST car in the world, they will probably think of something more like this...





    And that's why JK Rowling's writing is great but not great, in my opinion: Her writing is closer to that first hypothetical car. First of all, her style is simply not all that distinctive nor overwhelmingly attractive. Stylistically it resembles many traditional English authors (just slightly tweaked for 'modernism'). There's not much really delicious imagery. The language doesn't dance off the page.

    You could argue none of that stuff matters, of course, and you would not necessarily be wrong -- it depends what you want. But if she was truly a great writer as opposed to a great storyteller and decent writer one imagines she would be universally acclaimed as the best writer of all time. But you wont find many people, even die hard fans, who will say that. What they will say instead is she wrote the best book series of all time, which is a slightly but still significantly different accomplishment.
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  6. #16
    An often-overlooked perk of well-written prose, no matter how dull the storytelling, is that a writer learns techniques from reading it.

  7. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by EternalGreen View Post
    An often-overlooked perk of well-written prose, no matter how dull the storytelling, is that a writer learns techniques from reading it.
    Some writers never seem to learn anything
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  8. #18
    WF Veteran Squalid Glass's Avatar
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    Lucky, if you’re looking to define great writing in the way you do, poetry seems the appropriate medium, not prose. Storytelling is one aspect of great writing, just like aesthetics and linguistic prowess are. If you are defining great as style, you should be more concerned with poetry or the highest of literary fiction.

    If we’re looking for an author who has both high literary style and tells great stories, I think you can look at someone like Vonnegut or Twain or even someone like Tolkien.
    "I don't do anything with my life except romanticize and decay with indecision."

    "America I've given you all and now I'm nothing."

  9. #19
    Given a choice between the two extremes, I'd say that a good story will succeed over good writing.

    This is a tricky one to discuss, though, because as writers, we spend so much time discussing technique that it naturally becomes our main focus. Beautiful writing is a clear sign of excellent craftsmanship.

    But for most readers, I'd argue that the story is the main point, and the words themselves are just the medium.

    Personally, I feel that the "best" writing is twofold: a gripping story, wrapped in writing that's beautiful without being noticeable. Complex, yet seemingly effortless. It's a slippery thing to define, like trying to nail a puff of smoke to the wall. But you pretty much know it when you see it.

  10. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by Squalid Glass View Post
    Lucky, if you’re looking to define great writing in the way you do, poetry seems the appropriate medium, not prose. Storytelling is one aspect of great writing, just like aesthetics and linguistic prowess are. If you are defining great as style, you should be more concerned with poetry or the highest of literary fiction.

    If we’re looking for an author who has both high literary style and tells great stories, I think you can look at someone like Vonnegut or Twain or even someone like Tolkien.
    I really kind of hate the distinction because it doesn't feel like it should exist. I want to say 'great writing is writing that tells a great story competently'.

    But then I have a problem of accounting for the difference between the JK Rowlings and Stephen Kings of the world from the Fitzgeralds and the Faulkners.

    I always think putting down the difference to 'literary v genre fiction' as being a bit of a cop out because, as we often find, there's no much overlap between literary and genre fiction anyway, to the point one would wonder WHY Rowling/King could not be described as 'literary fiction' -- are they not good enough?

    And the answer is...they probably aren't good enough, I guess. In stylistic terms, at least. Stephen King is absolutely as good a storyteller as F. Scott Fitzgerald, as possibly a better one (subjective), but stylistically he probably isn't as good. Ergo, there must be a difference between high-end storytelling and high-end writing...
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