Wednesday 11 January 2017

Which is more important, good writing or a good story?

I have read two books recently that both came with a good pedigree but actually they couldn’t be more different. Both of them are published by the Big Five.

Good story but poor writing 

I borrowed this one from the library. It was in the new books section. I always check this first as I’m keen to read the latest. This also looked like a nice easy read and it was set in era in which I’m currently writing. Yet this book was a disappointment. Had it actually been edited? I was astounded too that the writer was formally a journalist. How could this person get it so wrong? There was far too much telling. In fact this book would be very good for showing creative writing students what is meant by telling instead of showing. The dialogue didn’t seem natural. The speeches were stilted and went on for far too long. There was often an awkward change of point of view, even mid-paragraph.     
Oh and the book cover didn’t really relate to the story. Plus it included a photograph, so spoilt the picture in my head. 
Nevertheless, I liked the main character. The novel gave me many more insights into the 1940s. The story arc was quite firm though a little disappointing at the end. An important person dived out of character and the story was left on a downbeat annoying cliff hanger. Was this a cunning marketing ploy?  


Great writing, annoying story

This one was also the recommendation of my reading group and one I’d had my eye for a while. I couldn’t fault the writing. It kept me engaged. The author totally had the voices of the characters. There was plenty of pace and tension.
In fact, I took it to the dentist. As usual he was running a bit late, and I was actually a bit disappointed when I was called in as my Kindle told me I only fifteen more minutes to read.
“Take it easy when you get home,” said the dentist. “This is major work you’ve had done.” I couldn’t watch TV as we’d just had a new one delivered and my husband was setting it up. The book was getting gripping I was only too glad to carry on reading it.
But oh dear. What a disappointing group of human beings: three inadequate women and two abusive men. I’m getting a little tired of reading about women who drift into alcoholism. I’ve read far too many books like that recently. I actually want to read about powerful, successful women and find out how they do it. Not these ne’er do wells. Plus the plot became at once predictable and unlikely. I, perhaps as a writer who can normally suss out these things, began to see who had committed the crime. But really? Would even a man like him do that?
I enjoyed reading the novel. I was gripped by it in fact, but ended up being irritated by it.

Who  is the winner?

Reluctantly I have to admit that I was irritated slightly less by the second one. In this case, good writing has won over good story.


Yes, as an editor, publisher and creative wring teacher I can confirm that poor writing can always be fixed – if you have enough time and patience, which in-house editors at big publishing houses rarely have. So, the story has to be right first. As the busy in-house editor hasn’t got time to fix, she will check the writing first. If that’s fine, she’ll look to see if the story works.

The rub

If either of these books had been submitted to me I would have rejected them. Oops. The former is by a writer who sells well and the latter is a best-seller.   

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