This topic comes up quite a bit in writing group forums. “Which is more important? The Writing or The Story?” Everyone knows that the real answer is both…you need both to produce a best-selling book. “But if you HAD to choose,” they ask, “which would it be?”In the past, I answered this question without hesitation. Here was my response:
It’s obvious that both are vital to make a book truly successful, but the reason why everyone is responding ‘STORY’ is because a book needs to be relate-able more than well writ. I can’t stand reading a book that has perfect prose but lacks interest. I’m not a big fan of books that have a great story but is poorly written, but you tend to overlook it because you love the story and the characters.
I cringe when I read my former opinion. I was new to writing and didn’t understand the power of engaging prose. Many books have gripped my attention with fantastic writing even when the story doesn’t interest me. Ender’s Game, The Hobbit, and Misery have all been books that the story became meaningful because of how well it was written.
Currently, I’m reading a debut novel which has a promising plot despite its nauseating writing. Run-on sentences, one-word sentences, and incoherent sentences run rampant throughout. The usage of time period language is inconsistent, jarring me from the book. Cliches and excessive “telling” infects the story. I keep reading, not because the story is interesting, but because I can learn from the poorly written prose and how it can ruin a good story.
A writer may be a storyteller, but writing a story well is what really defines a writer. Anyone can slap a story on paper or in a Word document. Writing well is an art. I never want to settle for writing worthwhile characters and their journey unless I can pair it with prose worthy of it.