Friday, July 8, 2011

Friday Fricassee

So I am attempting to write this post while eating a sprouted cinnamon-and-raisin English muffin. So far, the muffin is winning.

Needless to say, this isn't going to be one of my deeply-thought-out Fricassees.  I am delighted that last Friday's post resonated with so many of you; I appreciate your comments and emails.

Today's thought: Is it about the WRITING or about the STORY? This isn't a unique conversation in the publishing world, but I'm asking you personally.  What matters more to YOU?  As a reader and as a writer? (Do you have to separate those when you read? Or are you all sorts of monogamous?)

I love the way a compelling story will keep me on the edge of my seat, fingers twitching to turn the page. But if the writing isn't sparkling, too, then that edge-of-seatness loses its sharpness.  VERY. QUICKLY. Because, for me, writing is paramount. Of course I want a good plot; of course I want to be propelled forward.  But words and language mean so much to me--SO MUCH--that anything less than WONDERFUL in that department is going to leave me flat.

Mind you, beautiful writing with no real story isn't exactly exciting.  It's not like you can separate the two elements and be left with a decent book.  But a fast-paced edge-of-seater feels like a cheap thrill when it's poorly written, whereas beautiful prose will leave me sighing in contentment even if the story was so quiet I don't remember it the next day.

That's me.  What about you?

(And, as always, have a wonderful weekend!)


  1. Absolutely agreed. Examples of each: Swamplandia! Not much of a plot to speak of, but a breathtaking simile or turn of phrase on every page. Or two. Or three.

    Opposite example: The Maze Runner. Hard to put down because the story is so, well, weird and scary. But vey little of interest on the sentence level.

    Which book will I remember?

  2. I can't really choose one or the other- it's likely choosing plot vs. characters. I think you need a balance of both, not one weaker than the other, otherwise it shows. And I agree with Gail on The Maze Runner. I didn't actually finish it because the writing wasn't great, even though the plot was interesting.

    I think the last few HP books do a good job of balancing the story and the writing, and I though the Ink Trilogy by Cornelia Funke had a great balance of amazing writing and an awesome story.

  3. Both, of course, but I'd compare it to food. The story is the meal. It has to be well balanced and fulfilling, but must have the flavor of good writing.
    Pretty words come easier to me than plot and theme; I am the same way with cooking. I can spice any dish, find the right herbs to garnish a plate, but planning a menu is more difficult and takes research and practice.

  4. I recently read a book and I flat out disliked the writing style but the story was compelling. I stuck with it. Sometimes stories are boring but the words are beautiful and I read them in awe and it doesn't matter. The best pieces have both! :-)

  5. Idealy you have both. While i'll marvel and enjoy (for awhile) a well written book with no story, i'm more likely to actually finish the book with a great story but less than stellar writing (to a point!). I've also found that i'm a little more forgiving with self-published books with less than stellar writing because I know they haven't had the benefit of extra editing eyes, but I do have a limit. Have a great weekend!

  6. I'm all about the story. I appreciate beautiful language when I read it, but as long as the writer has a good grasp of the English language, if the story's fantastic, I'm hooked. This is evident in my own writing, so one of my next projects is to read lots of authors who write amazing prose, starting with Catherynne M. Valente. If anyone has any other recommendations, that would be awesome. :)

  7. I say writing first, only because I won't give the story a chance if the writing is bad. I'll stop reading, period. It's like shopping for a house: It has to have curb appeal or I won't get out of the car. Floor plan may be incredible, the backyard amazing, but if it looks ugly from the street, I'm driving on down the road.

  8. Wow! I mused a bit on this at Literary Crush recently when the hoopala about 'is YA too dark' was going on.

    For me, it's like comparing chocolate. Books with compeling and/or satisfying plots are like a Hersey's Bar. What's not to love? Totally accessible to anyone who buys one and scarfs it down. But a gourmet truffle on the other hand? You have to put in a little more effort to find it and buy it, and eating it may leave you unsure you are ready for the complexity of flavors and textures, but boy, is it memorable. Books with beautiful, complex prose are the ones I remember for much longer than the Hersey's Bar books (even if the story arch leaves a bit to be desired).

    If you want more of my little chocolate theory and how the sweet stuff might be used to RATE books go to

  9. I guess I'm contrary because what I like is a book that creates a beautiful story without drawing attention to the writing. There isn't a phrase that stands out; the writing seems effortless, but the emotion and the scene stay with you a long time and the unforgettable characters leap off the page.

    Kate DiCamillo is able to do it without wasting a word. Tolstoy and Tolkien achieve it but need a lot more words.

  10. I can forgive sloppy writing (to a point) if the plot is engaging enough. Sure, it does feel like a cheap trill, and something of an eyesore, but better a cheap trill than a boring book. The moment I find myself bored in a book, I close it and never come back.

  11. Personally, I want a well-written book. I haven't read the Da Vinci Code or the Twilight Series though I've tried and tried, but I just can't get past the bad writing, and I keep asking myself - where in the world were their editors?

    On the other hand, these books have sold and made millions, so people are reading them, which says to me, readers, and publishers, want a good story more than good writing. I'm sure publishers would prefer to have both, but it seems clear they're not going to turn down a great story because of bad writing.

    I haven't yet made up my mind if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

  12. I'm not a huge bookworm, but a compelling story will keep me reading and reading. I read Suzanne Collins's book "Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane" in one day! That book wasn't too big, but it was still a typical-sized novel.

    But then here's something freaky: I read Harry Potter 4 in FOUR DAYS! And Harry Potter 5 in a week or less. That's how much they suck me in! I didn't really like book 6 as much, and book 7 was pretty good. Book 5 is my favorite. But Harry Potter 4 is the only very fat book that took me a few days to read.

  13. I can't handle books with no story, no matter how pretty the writing. So I'm probably a little more forgiving on the writing. If it's invisible and the story is great, I'm in. If the writing is visibly awful, on the other hand, I give up. So the bar is high for both--but above that bar, if one outshines the other, I would probably choose story.

  14. As a literary writer I can't cope with too much poorly written, plot driven novels. But you are right. A story needs a balance. Even great literary works still have a story line. And even if the characters are more important than the story, it still needs to exist enough to want to know what happens to the characters.

  15. *too many. Ouchie typo there! :o)