Wednesday, March 25, 2009

More Than Words

When I first started writing for publication, I realized that my craft needed work.
So I cut and pruned and honed my prose until I knew how to wield POV, how to make a sentence shine, and how to end with a hook.

But now, something has dawned on me.

It's not about my sentence structure, verbs or adjectives. Publishers and readers want a great story.

This has challenged me to not only choose my words wisely, but to craft a story that is unique and powerful, not cliche (which I'm good at) or stale.

It's tough though. Will my plots and characters resemble a dozen others in the same genre?

What do you think? What is more likely to be published: a so-so story with amazing writing or a blow-you-away story with less than stellar writing?

41 comments:

Jody Hedlund said...

I think unpublished authors have to have both a stellar story and great writing skills--at least to get noticed. Was it Rachelle Gardner's blog that recently said, great stories are a dime a dozen? (or something like that) It's the way we tell the story that makes the difference.

Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

I agree with Jody's comments!

I believe you can take a worn story line and make it give birth to a terrific story by the way it's told.

I often read several books of the same author because I love the way they tell a story even if the plot is a familiar one.

Jessica said...

Hey Jody and Donna,
You two are up so early! My kids woke me up. grrrr...
So both, huh? I guess I missed Gardner's blog that dealt with that, though Mary DeMuth recently blogged about storytelling.
Donna, I agree that there are some authors I'll read just because I know that they'll deliver. They also write well though.
I guess I'm thinking of some recent bestsellers that I could barely read because the writing craft wasn't there, yet I finished because the plot was interesting and I wanted to see what would happen.

Debra E Marvin said...

I also feel that it's about story and I worry each word onto the paper and wonder . . .
Is the story good enough?

As I become more skilled at the 'craft' of writing, it's easier to see what needs to be improved, but it must be much worse to see what's lacking in a story. Even tweaking the plot may not do it.

Story is what makes me keep reading when the 'writing' makes me stumble. I think we have to depend on a 'second opinion' to find out if the story is as compelling as it needs to be.

Jessica said...

Debra, that sounds right to me. A great point about that second opinion. Maybe even a second anonymous opinion?
I so know what you mean. Thanks for commenting.

Kristen Painter said...

Twilight proves that you don't have to be a great writer to be successful. Great story telling trumps all.

Jennifer Shirk said...

I'll say it's all about "voice" and how you tell a story that matters most.
Storylines in books and movies today aren't really that original.

Jessica said...

LOL Kristen.
And that's all I'll say.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

I do believe there is merit to the saying "Story trumps everything". But to break into the market, stellar prose AND fabulous story would shine the brightest to get an editor or agent to take notice.

We have a tough job. But one worth working toward mastering.

Jessica said...

Hi Jennifer,
I guess you could say that many of the storylines we use today stem from a common plot. Voice can definitely affect the pull of a book, I think.
Thanks for stopping by!

Janna Qualman said...

I think it could honestly go either way, because it really comes down to how you approach the agent/pub and whether what you've written catches their eye right then. I wish there were some proven formula, every time.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Hey, Kristen, I'm just now reading Twilight. And I find myself wondering how her simple sentences, occasional over-reaching of POV, repetative I's keeps me reading. But it does. So her style works for me, and obviously many others. And to be honest, I believe she's geared this series for teenagers, so her writing is likely perfect for them.

THis makes me think, though, it's no so much how you present feelings, situations, actions, but What you actually include in your story that matters the most. If it draws the reader to want to hear more, then you've succeeded. Offering a mystery, like Twilight does, keeps us guessing, wondering, so we keep reading.

Now I have to figure out how to create mystery in an Inspirational Romance from page one, I guess.

Jessica said...

A formula? Oh Janna, that would be wonderful! LOL But then maybe everyone would be doing this right? Sigh. Maybe a secret formula....

Jessica said...

Eileen, I agree that it probably takes both for most newbie writers. Like you, I kept reading Twilight because I'd heard so much about it, then because there was a mystery towards the end about the rogue vampires. Plus, I haven't read a lot of vampire stories, so it was a new genre for me, which can be a hook in and of itself.

Marybeth said...

A few weeks ago I began reading Harry Potter to my daughter. WOW talk about poor writing skills. HOWEVER it is one of the best selling books of all time. I think story line trumps writing, BUT great writing with a great story is sure to trump them all :)

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

I don't know if poor writing can sell a really good story, but perhaps less than stellar writing (eg: The Twilight example where the prose is fine, just kind of flat) with a really good story is enough to sell.

As a reader though, the older I get and the more I read, the pickier I get - and I want both to be there in equal amounts.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Depending on the market and type, I'd say story rules. A good editor can "fix" technical glitches but can never re-write the story. (As a prose editor for The Rose & Thorn, that's how it is for me.) :)

Jessica said...

Hi Mary Beth,
That's so cool that you're reading to your daughter! I agree, add the two greats together and we have a winner! :-)
Thanks for commenting.

Cindy said...

Yep, I am going with the majority on this that says new writers need to be able to do both. But I think overall, having a great story outweighs having stellar writing. I am not sure I have ever stopped reading a book with terrible writing that had a great story. But I have definitely stopped in the middle (or beginning) of a book that had good writing but a terrible story.

Jessica said...

Hi Kate,
I'm getting pickier too. It kind of stinks right? But I think it's that I only have so much time and I want to read something that will really take me away.

T. Anne said...

Judging by Twilight's success I'd say the later. Perhaps most people today just want to be entertained? I love stellar writing. I could fall in love with an author based on one sentence alone.

Jessica said...

Hmmm, I guess that's true Angie. So editors don't tell their writers to get rid of dialogue tags and stuff?
I didn't realize you were an editor of a magazine. That's kind of cool. :-)

Jessica said...

LOL Cindy! Very true. Based on all of your opinions, it looks like I need to polish up my imagination! :-)

Jessica said...

T. Anne, that's probably why you write literary. :-) My friend has a literary voice and her writing is just beautiful. Thank goodness she writes great romances too!
But yeah, I kind of appreciate a beautiful sentence. Did you ever read The Thirteenth Tale?

Irritable Mother said...

Well, I would like to have both. But if the story draws me in, I can forgive poor writing skills. Yeah, if I had to choose one, I want a good story.

Kathryn Magendie said...

Okay - I'm going to say this even though it hurts to say it....*sigh* -- A compelling story with less than stellar writing will almost always be snapped up first. There. I said it.

There's never been an argument that my writing is "quite good" adn that I am "gifted writer" -- but, the question would always be: will your story sell lots of books?

we will see, won't we? *laughing*

Dara said...

I have to say that I'm more apt to like a story despite the writing. There is a line though about how badly it's written though.

I do love stellar writing, however in some cases, like lit fiction for example, it can be hard for me to tell what the actual story is despite the great writing. I love lit fiction but it generally takes me a little longer to follow it. :)

jessie said...

I recently read on an agency website, that they were seeking "high concept novels." And not knowing EXACTLY what was meant by this, I looked it up. Waxman Literary Agency writes, "It’s an idea that is immediately accessible & appealing to a large group of people, that taps into the hive-mind if you will, but with the added spark of feeling new." I also read that the higher the stakes the higher the concept. So, it seems like it is a lot about story. But then again, writing HAS to be good...at least good enough. I hope I have both (fingers crossed). Anyway, great question, and yea! 13600 words! That's more than a couple days ago, right? A growing novel-what a good feeling.

Jessica said...

Kathryn, it does hurt to say, doesn't it? LOL I think you'll do great. :-)

Jessica said...

Hi Dara, I haven't read a lot of lit fiction so until I started learning about the actual craft of writing, it was the story that pulled me in. I even read a few Danielle Steeles, though in the end it was her stories that pushed me away.
It's a funny thing, learning the craft. In a way, it almost seems as though it's ruined my literary tastebuds.

Jessica said...

Hey Jessie,
Yeah, high-concept is something that confuses me no matter how many times I read the definition.
Yes, this growing novel is a good feeling, though I'm not sure how long the good will last. LOL I keep questioning my scenes, conflicts, etc.
Thank goodness for revisions. And those are months down the road.

Lady Glamis said...

That's a great question, Jessica! I've heard of people who submit their work to agents who LOVE the story but say they couldn't work with it yet because it wasn't polished enough. I think in the end, unfortunately, story wins out. And I'm a language girl! I love both, though. When they both mesh and work, you've got gold. :)

All about layers

Jessica said...

Oh, you know, I've heard that too but had forgotten. Good point!

Terri Tiffany said...

Oh this is so my problem! I'm glad you brought it up! I worked hard to so that my sentences were correct and structured etc--but if you don't have a great story-it is no use! I have been able to edit some writers stories for them and help get them published because of the story line--and I couldn't get in cause I didn't have the story!

Jessica said...

Hey Terri,
That's both good and depressing to know. LOL
Thanks for sharing.

Lynnette Labelle said...

Look at the bestsellers. It's their stories that sell. All the "rules" of writing aren't followed by many of them, yet the publishers keep buying their books and so do their readers. That's got to say something. Unfortunately, we're told to follow the rules UNTIL we become bestsellers.

Lynnette Labelle
http://lynnettelabelle.blogspot.com

Jessica said...

It does say something. Sigh. So many rules, so few open spots. LOL Thanks for stopping by my blog Lynette. I agree wholeheartedly with you.

Jen and Kev said...

Jessie:
Oh, dear. I think you need both! Sorry! I am up against the same "perfection demon" in the non-fiction market!
Jen

Jessica said...

Oh man, I wouldn't even want to write non-fiction. You're up against a lot more than just great writing and great hook! :-)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

I haven't read all the comments, so if I repeat, please forgive me.

With readers becoming more savvy to good writing, they're demanding both craft and story. I don't think we can afford to settle for mediocre in either area.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Jessica said...

I know. We really shouldn't settle for mediocre. It's just so tempting! LOL