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Let’s talk a little bit about good books. Books that you just sit down and devour. Books you can’t stop loving, can’t stop reading and can’t wait for the sequel to come out.
There are lots of these books, thank goodness. My world would be a much different and much darker place without them. I don’t want to say my entire life revolves around stories. But I’m a writer who’s hobbies include reading, watching good tv and listening to fictional podcasts. So, most of my day is taken up with stories.
Some works of fiction are just perfect. Perfect writing, perfect story, perfect characters. They’re funny, deep, and stick with you for years. Things like The Giver, or Hunger Games. These were triumphs of good writing and good story.
Getting all of those parts down, though, is tricky. Most stories miss the point on at least one or two of those categories.
Some of those faults can be forgiven. I think of it in terms of stability. A table standing on four legs is perfectly stable. Let’s say those legs are dialog, story, writing and character. If a piece of furniture is standing on only three legs, let’s say story dialog and writing, it’ll probably still do fine.
With one exception. I can love a book with bad characters. I can love a book with bad writing. I can even love a book with bad dialog, though it might be the sort of love I don’t talk about much. Sort of like my love of processed sugar.
But I cannot, until my dying day, love a book that doesn’t have a good story.
That’s what it all comes down to. If the story is no good, all the flowery writing and great dialog in the world won’t save it.
So if story is on top of the list of importance, what’s on the bottom? Well, this might be surprising, given my profession. But it’s the writing.
I will overlook bad writing in a heartbeat. Though I do work to elevate my writing, I don’t care so much if other authors didn’t.
Let me give you some examples. There is a trilogy of books called The Looking Glass Wars. I devoured all three of them, and I wish there were more. I loved the story, loved the characters. They turned the Mad Hatter into this ultra-cool assassin and I was here for every single page of it. Alice as a general, with Dopple and Ganger? Yes, all day.
The writing in the books was, sad to say, awful. The dialog was unrealistic and childish. I could have used up a few red pens making edits and corrections in just one of the three books.
But they were good stories. And that’s what saved them.
As another example, let’s look a little bit at The Exorcist. It’s a great story, but the writing is so bad! I’m reading it now, and I swear William Peter Blatty has never met a child and never heard another soul have a conversation in his life.
That being said, this is one of the most beloved horror novels of all time.
I’m not saying that we should strive to write badly. I’m just saying maybe the focus should be on the story first and the writing in the third draft.
This is so true! A good store can salvage just about any error in the craft–especially because what makes ‘good writing’ is highly subjective. But, perfect craft really can’t hold up a bad story.
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