Does Story Trump Craft?

Old booksWe’ve discussed various aspects of writing many times on this blog, including the importance of mastering the craft along with how crucial it is to have a terrific story (or for non-fiction, a strong, compelling topic). Having been an editor for years and an aficionado of both literary and genre fiction, I’ve always advocated the position that “writing craft” is of primary importance. But I wonder if it’s time to change my tune.

Are we entering an era in which the story is the single most important element, and issues of “craft” are secondary if considered at all?

We are seeing:

The rise of self-publishing

Scaled-back editing at many of the major publishing houses

More competition than ever for readers’ attention and time

Could all of this be creating an environment in which literary excellence is losing its value, and the books that will sell best are those with a juicy or fast-paced page-turning factor, regardless of the quality of the writing?

These days, even to ask such a question is to invite an onslaught of protests in the vein of “but it’s all subjective anyway” and “but who determines what is quality?”

I know people are still reading high quality fiction (I just finished the latest by Barbara Kingsolver, and am about to start The Round House by Louise Erdrich – both “literary” in nature.) I also know readers seem to be devouring genre fiction and self-published books at an even faster rate (and for the record, I’ve read many self-pubbed authors, too, such as Colleen Hoover.)

When submitting projects to editors these days, their responses are all over the map, so it’s hard to know what they really want on any given day. I wonder if they are grappling with these same questions.

What do you think? Are things any different now than they were in days gone by, or is this just my perception? Is craft still important? Is story the be-all and end-all?

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How Do I Decide? Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing

If you’re thinking about getting published, you may be interested in my e-book: How Do I Decide? Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing, available now on Amazon.

 

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  • http://brandonrluffman.wordpress.com Brandon R. Luffman

    I think this is an interesting question, but I’m not sure if it’s the right way to look at it.

    I’m coming from the point of view of a genre author, of course, and I’ve always felt that entertainment value was the most important aspect. I write to entertain, not push a theme or a “moral to the story”. Those things can be wonderful, but at the end of the day, I’m an entertainer, not a philosopher.

    So, for me, I’ve always felt that story was most important. However, without some level of craft you can’t convey the story in a way that truly entertains.

    I don’t think “story” and “craft” are on the same spectrum. I think that craft must serve the story, because I feel that story is the goal and craft is how you get there.

    It doesn’t matter how engaging and entertaining the story is, if it’s not presented in a way that supports that greatness.

    Story is the diamond in the rough. Craft is the cut, the polish, and the setting, that makes it a jewel.

    Then again, I’m sleep-deprived and may not know what I’m talking about! ;-)

    • http://bansheeweaver.blogspot.com Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts

      I agree, Brandon. Story is of primary importance–if the story is mediocre, don’t waste my time with it. At the same time, how it’s presented is almost as important. If the story has one grammatical or typographical mistake after another, I will be distracted, get frustrated, and give up on trying to read the story. Also, even if a book has an excellent plot, if the setting includes numerous “fluffy white clouds” and every attractive thing is described as “beautiful” (A beautiful blue butterfly sat on a beautiful green leaf of a big tree. The sky that day was a beautiful shade of blue), I’m going to get bored quickly and never discover whether or not the plot had been worth reading.

      “Craft is the cut,the polish and the setting that makes the jewel.” Well said and exactly right!

    • http://www.juturnafaerthing.blogspot.com Juturna F.

      Brandon said it perfectly.

      I do sometimes wonder why so many people assume genre fiction is not “high-quality” fiction. I’m sure that’s not what you meant, but I’ve heard people phrase things in a similar way, and that was what they meant. I’ve seen high-quality, engaging genre fiction (yes, including self-pubbed, well-edited genre fiction) that points out legitimate issues and gets those points across. It’s just a different vehicle, and there are as many great examples of genre literature as there are literary literature. It’s just that it’s more entertaining to focus on the bad ones.

      On a year-by-year basis, commercial fiction has always outsold literary fiction. I’m one of those oddballs, though, who thinks of literary fiction as a loosely-defined genre, a genre she doesn’t usually enjoy. But I don’t think it’s a genre that will ever lose its appeal, because the people who love it, love it. Just like sci-fi, it will always have an audience.

    • http://pjcasselman.wordpress.com P. J. Casselman

      True, the craft does serve the story. I went to a restaurant in Jamaica and the waiter was smoking when he brought me my food. It didn’t have to be gourmet, but c’mon! :P

    • http://vaughnroycroftblog.com Vaughn Roycroft

      Hmm, I’m not so sure I agree with this line of thinking. I suppose it’s fine to write, or to read, for mere entertainment. But for me, the time I spend reading should go beyond entertainment. Sure, a small part of it is laughing and enjoying myself, but I want to be stimulated to thought and to deeper emotions than mere amusement or enjoyment. I want to experience the human condition from another perspective. Btw, I read mostly genre, but there is plenty of what I’m talking about available from many talented genre authors.

      If I want entertainment, I’ll watch a sitcom or go to a blockbuster movie. And poorly crafted fiction, no matter how entertaining, has a lesser chance of taking me to the level I expect to be taken to during the time I invest in reading.

      • AJ Sikes

        I’ll second Vaughn’s thoughts and add that poorly crafted stories, whether it be bad grammar or clunky prose or typos…they piss me off. I mean in the “you just cut me off on the freeway to make it to the exit, nearly sending me spinning into the shoulder with my four year old in the back seat” kind of pissed off.

        I don’t buy books to wade through shoddy work. And I take writing seriously, perhaps too seriously, but I care about the labor and art of writing enough to put my time in. I don’t send stories out until they’re polished and clean. And I’m just starting out as a writer.

        I expect people who have agented submissions going out to editors to pay at least as much care and attention as I do, if not more. Or is this career like that movie Office Space, where everyone just strives with all their might towards the pinnacle, that corner office known as Mediocrity?

        In the past year I’ve started leaving review on Amazon and Goodreads, and I’ve made a point of indicating when I found bad craft being excused because a “good story” was somewhere hiding in amidst the errors. I think readers deserve better, and if we want writing to remain a profession and not just “something people do on the side,” then as writers it is incumbent upon us to do better.

    • SJOlson

      Publishing is a business based on revenue. What sells drives the revenue. A literary agent can INFLUENCE that process by only putting forth writers that have craft and story. I suggest they let authors know they have a brilliant idea but their craft needs management. Help develop authors to be high craft. You can’t do that with a form rejection letter. You can’t do that by jumping on a good story because it’s just like ’50 Shades of Gray.’
      When someone publishes a low craft book that makes millions it points to a lot of things in our society. If people aren’t educated to write or read, what will they like?
      Look at the top selling books list. It’s a mixed bag and for me a disappointing bag.

    • http://creativitylifecoaching.blogspot.com sherrie miranda

      I agree with Brandon too. In fact you may want to copyright that quote as it’s the best way I have seen it described.
      Yes, story is number one; without a great story, no amount of revisions and polishing will make that story great. BUT, a great story can be told in a way that people may not even see it’s greatness.
      Unlike Brandon, teaching a moral lesson is why I write. Of course, you don’t want to pour it down the readers’ throats while they are kicking and screaming. That’s where Craft comes into play. I need to tell this story in a way that will make people want to read it so they CAN learn the lesson.
      I also believe that the lesson is a part of all of us. The writer just helps us recognize it.
      Peace & love to all!
      Sherrie

  • Elissa

    I think in many cases story may win out over craft, but it certainly isn’t be-all and end-all. The majority of readers DO want a story that holds their interest and entertains and/or educates. Even so, a poorly crafted story is not likely to do as well as a good story, well written.

    I believe it’s a lot like different styles of music. A pop tune does not have the depth of a symphonic work, but that doesn’t mean both can’t be equally enjoyable to the ear.

    • http://pjcasselman.wordpress.com P. J. Casselman

      Styles of music seem very applicable here. Meyer’s books aren’t high lit, but they are well crafted for what they are. We are quick to judge a book as if it’s an opera, instead of a band that plays at a blues club.

      • http://www.nataliesharpston.com Natalie Sharpston

        Love the music analogy. Perfectly apt for this discussion.

  • http://cherylbarker.blogspot.com/ Cheryl Barker

    I don’t know about readers in general, but craft is still important to me. I might read one book by an author where the quality of writing is sub-par — just to finish the book and see if things improve — but I won’t read another by that author.

  • http://heathermoments.com/words heather

    I agree a lot with Brandon. I don’t think story and craft can be separated out all the time. Bad craft affects the story; a bad story affects the craft. And good craft makes the story better; a good story makes for better craft.

    So I don’t ever really notice when I’m reading a book whether it’s well-written or whether the story is bad or whatever. I just like it, or I don’t like it, and usually, for me, good craft comes with good story and bad story comes with bad craft.

    However, I think good crafts means a lot more than the sort of style of literary fiction. What they like to teach in schools isn’t the definition of good craft.

    I think popular page-turners or genre fiction or young adult novels all have good craft but in a completely different way than literary fiction.

    Craft is always important, but it comes in different varieties.

  • http://www.christianreads.blogspot.com Iola

    I’ve read some self-published novels that were missing both story and craft, and others where the lack of craft was so bad that it ruined the story.

    And by ‘craft’, I’m not talking about literary fiction. I’m talking about point of view and homophone errors – the nuts and bolts of good writing.

    But I saw one self-published Christian fiction author last week who claims to have earned $70,000 in the last year. I’ve read four of her five published novels, and found that they were definitely missing craft and editing, although the stories were good. So I guess not everyone values craft as much as I do.

    • http://creativitylifecoaching.blogspot.com sherrie miranda

      I suppose some readers have the same grammatical problems as the writer so they don’t notice the errors. For those of us that do, this can be excruciatingly painful.
      Even reading HuffPost gets my blood boiling when it comes to misuse of homophones and other issues like spelling and just plain using a word wrong.
      Perhaps in this day & age, we have a different way of judging writing. I know that since I started texting, it is harder for me to write out words. I want to write: r for are, and u for you. It is making me feel like being lazy. Too many young people see problems like this as normal. Maybe we need to bring the English Police back so these kids can learn the RIGHT way to write! ;-) <3

  • http://inklingsanon.blogspot.com/ Caleb

    The craft does not go away. With self publishing you are seeing an influx of unfiltered stories out there. But those weak stories have always been there. People have always written them. People have always self published who’s story lacked severely. Instead of an agent deciding who’s story lacks and who doesn’t, in self publishing, we the readers decide. The reason plot driven stories succeed is because there are too many book a holics who run out of character driven books. But even the people who usually exclusively read Harlequin recognize when they see something of true craft that are built around the characters and not the plot. With things like 50 shades of gray being so popular, you run into the issue of sex sells but sex is plot and not character. In my research of writing, writing is always a trend. But you can either be the trend or chase the trend. Anyone who is now starting to write about vampires will be chasing the trend. Anyone who crafts a book and drives it through characters are the trend,even if their character driven book happens to be vampires. Don’t forget, for the $30 bottle of wine there is always a box of wine being sold. For every can of Miller Lite, someone is crafting a micro brew that Miller could never touch. Last example, store bought bread versus mom’s home made bread. Craft is always superior.

    • http://creativitylifecoaching.blogspot.com sherrie miranda

      I had a guy come to my writer’s group with two books of poems he had self-published. When I asked how many had been printed, he said just the one (of each). He couldn’t even tell me if they were print on demand (POD) or how to get a copy of his book.
      After he read some stuff, I could see that this guy had decided the poems and very short stories were as good as they could get. He did NOT want to hear our critiques.
      I knew, without a doubt, he would never return. I was right.
      This is my fear about self-publishing. i want to be sure the book is the best it can be. I don’t want to hear critiques on how it could be better once it is out there.
      Do most people here hire editors? I am at a loss for what the next step is, besides continuing to look for an agent.
      Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

      • Zac

        I’ve decided to go the self-publishing route, and when I was fairly confident that I had a strong book, I sent it off to an editor, since everything I had read stressed the importance of quality editing when trying to self-publish. It was the most eye-opening experience I’ve had, and well worth the cost. She pointed out many flaws that I hadn’t seen or consider minor, and as a result, I basically scrapped the book and the series, and started over. And I’m glad I did, because looking back, I see that it wasn’t nearly to the level necessary. I’ve learned a lot since that experience and I’m seeing that all the advice was accurate: if you’re planning on self-publishing, professional editing is one of the 2 most important things to invest in.

        • http://creativitylifecoaching.blogspot.com sherrie miranda

          “if you’re planning on self-publishing, professional editing is one of the 2 most important things to invest in.”

          What is the other important thing to invest in?

          How does one choose an editor? Rachel, have you written an article on this question?
          Tanks to everyone here.
          Sherrie

          • Zac

            A book cover of high quality design is the other thing I’ve read that you can’t afford to skimp on, because like it or not, people do judge a book by its cover.

  • Erich Kreppenhofer

    Looking at the comments I see a great division of opinions without considering the facts. The story has become more important in many different ways. The craft, as you call it, is changing from decade to decade. In the past thirty years we have experienced literary changes, the Canadian style of diction or the Oxford inspired literarture are very different in spelling and sentence manufacturing. In the north American regions the multicultural expansion has also demanded a different simpler style of writing. On a continent where 40 % of its population has English as second language the writer must simplify his text. It is the indie writer, that was not accepted by editors in publishing houses because the university educated MA in literature gives to much credence to the craft. Where it is supposed to sell books, how many could stand beside Hemingway or Mailer. Millions of readers need the less demanding diction of the simple story. The big Publishers are now in the business of lowering their demand by going the self publishing style, like Create Space, so if I am sitting an an airport and need the time to pass, I dont give a damn if I read the Mockingbird or Lynn Rush! So it is the story that will make me buy a book!

    • http://creativitylifecoaching.blogspot.com sherrie miranda

      You have a point there!

  • Neil Ansell

    Things have not changed so much – there have always been books that were focused more on story than the quality of writing. The racks of pulp fiction or mills & boon style formula romances in kiosks outside train stations, and before that the penny dreadfuls of the 19th century. Good story ideas can come to anyone, while craft may take years to refine. This is why novice self-published writers tend to write in genres where story is of more importance – they are learning their craft in public, and there is more of a market for badly written erotica or sci-fi, say, than there ever will be for badly written attempts at literature.

    • Peggy Dover

      Well said, Neil. For me, the quality of well-drawn characters is of utmost importance. I’ve read too many genre books with one-dimensional players. If I can’t really see them as unique, I don’t really care about their story.

  • http://blessed-are-the-pure-of-heart.blogspot.com/ Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    It would seem that the coarsening of taste has opened the door for the acceptance of shoddy craftsmanship as the norm.

    If you look at some of the “potboiler” novels of years past – say, the espionage/adventure stories of Alastair McLean – they were well-crafted, fast-paced books that really suffered in reputation by their place in a genre, and perhaps by too much reliance on stock characters and situations.

    Similar novels today may have good story lines, but they’re almost unreadable. The craftsmanship is just so bad…

    I think it comes from a societal insistence that everyone has something to say, and that everything’s “equal” in some way. Stephanie Meyers is just as good as Shakespeare.

    To avoid the appearance of being unfair, we’ve bought into that. Holding out for good craft brings accusations of elitism and class-consciousness. Ugh.

    I don’t pretend to be a literary writer, but I did study writing for seven years – formally – and I try to maintain my awareness of what good craft IS by reading authors whose style I respect and admire.

    And who can tell a darn good story, too!

    • http://einefeistyberg.wordpress.com Cherry Odelberg

      “A societal insistance that everything is equal in some way…”
      What a tragedy when a great story is ruined by shoddy craft. It drives the reader mad.

      • http://pjcasselman.wordpress.com P. J. Casselman

        I like that you pulled that quote out, Cherry, because it grabbed me too. Therein lies what I hear all over the net about agents and formal publishing. People whine because others got lucky or knew someone, when in fact the had well crafted stories for their genre.

        • http://creativitylifecoaching.blogspot.com sherrie miranda

          The LUCKY ones are the ones with the money to pay someone to write their story for them (in the case of memoir) or revise and edit their story until it IS a really well crafted work. The problem with either option is they may edit your voice right out of the piece.
          So the work continues and we just hope that at some point, we have learned enough to grab the attention of an agent.

  • http://pjcasselman.wordpress.com P. J. Casselman

    To say that the story trumps the craft is like saying gold is more valuable than a gold necklace. What good is a lump of gold if not fashioned? It has value only in its weight, but not its form. When it is shaped by a superb crafter, the gold becomes something upon which a jewel can be set.

    People are digging out words and placing them before jewelers who are overwhelmed by the plethora of nuggets. It all has value, but only that which has been well crafted will be selected. Instead of whining about gate-keepers, the word miners need to ask how they can stand apart. The answer should be clear–craftsmanship.

    • http://theotherstephenking.com Stephen H. King

      I like your metaphor; good choice. There always have been excellent examples of writing, both traditionally and otherwise published, that languished while other stuff flourished.

  • http://claudenougat.blogspot.com Claude Nougat

    Story vs. craft? Good question, thanks for posting it! I can see from the comments that it is of interest to a lot of people. So far, all comments seemed to have missed a major aspect of the question: who is the audience?

    Let me explain. A novel for the mass of Kindle readers will need to be strong on story and can go soft on the craft: avid genre readers forgive craft weaknesses if they are entertained! A novel traditionally published in printed version will have to be strong on both counts if there’s any hope for it to make it to the best seller list on the NYT.

    So the sort of audience a novel is for really determines which trumps the other!

  • http://theotherstephenkingonwriting.blogspot.com Stephen H. King

    I don’t know if it’s valid to say either trumps the other. There will always, I hope, be a market, small though it’s always been, for literary fiction. I’m not in the market, personally, but I know those who are and I don’t think you’re going to stop loving a beautifully-crafted essay. Meanwhile the mass market is in it for the storytelling, but that doesn’t mean the story can be poorly crafted.

    I always start to get offended when people lump “poor craftsmanship” with “the rise of self-publishing.” I understand the lumping, though. It is, in fact, quite easy for poorly-crafted books to be tossed up onto the virtual shelves at Amazon by the hundreds of thousands. That said, look at the people who are successfully doing it. They’re the ones who’ve been practicing the craft, often in a traditionally published environment, for years, just like Kingsolver did, just like all craftmasters have done. Thus, being self-published isn’t necessarily the tell for poor craftsmanship; length and amount of time and effort is. After all, Mark Twain and Stephen King both have said their first works were garbage. If those two didn’t put out beautiful first works, why would anyone else expect to?

    - TOSK

    • http://pjcasselman.wordpress.com P. J. Casselman

      Yup, self-publishing is rising because there is a tremendous access to binding a book for e-readers. There are too few publishing companies for the number of authors that seem to be multiplying. So for many, self publishing becomes the only access point for a narrowing field. Although I find “Shades of Grey” to be garbage, it is a good example that the side door sometimes works.
      Reports show that since “Grey” was released, self-publishing has nearly tripled. (Though not cause-effect)

      • http://theotherstephenking.com Stephen H. King

        You read Shades? I had my librarian provide me with a quality report on it…. :-) That said, I agree with you. Shades was, in fact, garbage in every quasi-objective measure, but it proved that self-publishing can do it.

        • Neil Ansell

          Except that 50 shades was not self-published – here’s a quote from the author – ‘Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed were never self-published as these novels. An earlier version of this story began as Twilight fan fiction which was self published on the internet. The trilogy was picked up by an Australian publisher, The Writer’s Coffee Shop, who released them as e-books and print-on-demand paperbacks.’

  • Roxanne Sherwood Gray

    I study craft. It’s important to me to write well. Sometimes, when I’m reading a particular turn of phrase I’ll think, “How I wish I’d written that.” I love beautiful writing.

    Editing can fix problems in an otherwise great story, but attention to craft can’t create a silk’s purse from that old sow’s ear. The Hunger Games wasn’t all that well written, but Suzanne Collins sure created a compelling story world. I haven’t read Stephanie Meyers but I’ve heard she’s not a good writer. (I sure wouldn’t mind having her paycheck though.) However, she told a story that pulled in a lot of apathetic readers and sold millions of books.

    The bottom line for the majority of readers is that story trumps craft.

  • http://www.sharonalavy.com Sharon A Lavy

    Rachelle, I listened to everyone. I didn’t want to be one of those people who thought her words were sacred. “What I have written, I have written.”

    Finally agents started telling me I had gotten too much advice.

    So in that respect story does trump craft. Especially when people think preference is craft.

    Editing, now that is a cat of a different color. We will always need editors. Self editing is not enough. Even the best editor will not catch all the typos and plot holes in her own work.

    Thank you for this post.

  • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

    Story is the most important, but a poor delivery can keep a reader from seeing the story.

    It’s like at church, someone who hasn’t practiced enough may get up and sing a song. The song is still as great as it ever was, but you don’t get quite as much out of it as you do when a skill musician sings it.

    • http://www.ajlarrieu.com A. J. Larrieu

      Well said, Timothy. Story is crucial–I think it’s the only way we have of really communicating with each other–but a poorly-crafted story is one I won’t finish reading. There are still (thankfully) too many well-crafted, well-told stories out there to waste time on the substandard ones. I hope that doesn’t change.

  • http://www.janetbettag.com Janet Bettag

    Story and craft must be balanced and work together to create a good book. How awful it would be for future generations if craft were to be sacrificed for the sake of storytelling.

    I disagree with the suggestion that writers should simplify their text for the sake of their readers. That may sell more books, but it does nothing to enhance literacy. What ever happened to the idea that one should look up unfamiliar words in a dictionary to expand one’s vocabulary? Have we reached the point as a society where improving our minds has become an anachronism?

  • Amy Spencer

    I’m an editor for the self-publishing subsidiaries of two of those major publishing houses. And, Rachelle, it’s true that the editing is “scaled back.” (Is that true in-house too?)

    In self-publishing, that’s primarily because the writers usually pay for only one round of editing. And frankly, any amount of editing would fail to make many of the books I’ve edited qualify as good in the craft category. Many of them fail in the story category too.

    I’m very thankful for self-publishing, but I can attest that a good story is hard to come by. That’s partly because most self-publishing writers do not know the craft, so they can’t tell the story (fiction or nonfiction).

  • http://lauralibricz.blogspot.de/ Laura Libricz

    Let me answer this as a reader and not as an indie author. I read the work of a lot of new authors. I prefer unknown authors because I feel they need the readership more and I find their work is often better than authors who are getting ‘pushed’ up the ranks by big publishers. Story is what keeps me turning the pages, but craft will determine how many stars the author will earn. I just read a book with high ranking, with a great story and immature, annoying writing, confusing point-of-view and inaccurate research. This was from an author with an agent, an editor and a publisher. IMO inexcusable. If it was a freebie, I would have excused it but it was an expensive one for me.

    Story or craft? Can’t we readers have both?

  • http://merceyvalley.blogspot.com/ Mercey Valley

    Some of us can spin a great story and keep the reader turning pages where others can write themselves into a daydream of amazingness and just about lose track of the story for want of literary achievement. My belief is that neither trumps the other, however when one is strong it speaks volumes and proves its own worth.

    “Quality” is as open to new definition in this day and age as much as anything is. The modern, tech-savvy world is definitely redefining many things to fit, and the irony is that we will always cling to the classics.

    Maybe publishers are wondering why they bother (if editing is becoming less important and self-publishers are proving to be highly motivated people). Craft and story will always go hand-in-hand but there will always be books made of one more than the other. It’s a world of instant gratification, so the readers will choose whatever takes their fancy.

  • http://doubtingwriter.blogspot.com/ jeffo

    I don’t believe it’s an either/or question. I also don’t believe that ‘juicy’ and ‘fast-paced’ means poor writing quality, which is what your post suggests. I’m sure you don’t mean it that way, but that’s how it reads.

  • http://publishness.blogspot.com/ Angela Brown

    There have been a few titles, no need to name them, that have become THE best selling things ever yet when it came to the actual craft of the stories, that part came into question. The stories, however, were well loved on a massive scale. But craft still plays a part. The reader wants a great story delivered well, just a matter of striking that perfect balance.

  • http://makingbabygrand.com Dina Santorelli

    These genre fiction versus literary fiction discussions always make me uneasy, as if we have to choose between edge-of-your-seat schlock versus utterly boring masterpieces. I think that most books fall somewhere in the middle and always have–a combination of good story AND artful craft.

  • http://bansheeweaver.blogspot.com Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts

    Thank you for bringing up this topic, Rachelle. It is an important one. My primary response is in my comments to Brandon above. In addition to those comments, I’d like to give a gut level reply. First, yes, I think story is becoming the focus and the emphasis on craft (not the importance of, but the emphasis on) is decreasing due to some of the reasons you’ve listed above. However, as both a reader and a writer, I declare that it shouldn’t. I think it is quite sad that we (readers and writers) are allowing it to happen. There is, I believe, a chain reaction effect to this: once readers accept stories that are poorly told, they will begin to accept poor stories. This is, admittedly, a doom and gloom attitude and I own that it is entirely an emotional response arising from grief and dismay at the way literature seems to be going. Having got that out of my system, I will add that my hope is in the many excellent writers that I’ve been blessed to meet on this blog and in other places, people who really care about their craft, the quality of their work and their audiences. They are the ones who can keep good literature alive and I trust them to do so.

  • http://www.sueharrison.com Sue Harrison

    Unless a writer is approaching a literary publisher or a university press, it seems to me that story trumps craft – at least in the past 100 years. But craft is a subtle beast. A publisher might pick up a novel like WATER FOR ELEPHANTS because it tells a compelling story, but readers will fall in in love with it for reasons beyond story, even if they don’t understand all the dynamics involved.

    Within genre categories, two writers who tell compelling stories of equal edge-of-your-seat merit will sell but eventually readers will prefer the writer whose words and subtle metaphors make the novel sing.

    Just my take! Thank you for another great post, Rachelle.

    • http://thoughtsthatmove.blogspot.com/ Wendy Paine Miller

      This reader will. Like your take, Sue!

      • http://www.sueharrison.com Sue Harrison

        Thank you, Wendy!

  • http://solitruth.com Diana Harkness

    Never! Story and craft walk hand in hand. The story may be fabulous but if the craft is missing, I may not read it through to the end. I want more than story, I want art.

  • http://dianeyuhas.com Diane Yuhas

    I think it is a sign of the times that craftsmanship seems to have taken a backseat. With the problems besetting our education system, the idolization of celebrities, voyeuristic media entertainment, and an instant gratification society, it seems inevitable that craft would fall by the wayside, at least for a time. That is not to say there are no good books, just that the average American appears to be satisfied with less quality (think Wal-Mart and reality TV).

  • http://www.fromthemommyfiles.wordpress.com Maria A. Karamitsos

    Thanks for your post.

    While I believe the story is very important, the writing is equally important. In this era of self-publishing, many authors are racing to get published and not taking the time to edit their work, tie up holes in the plot lines, etc.

    In the course of my work as Associate Editor at The Greek Star newspaper, I have the opportunity to review books. I have read some books that had a great story, but were painful to read because of typos, grammatical errors, and ideas presented that proved extraneous and were never explored. All of these are very distracting to the reader.

    I have seen books that have far too many characters, and I’ve had to keep a score card to keep track. Not all the characters were properly developed, probably due to the sheer number of them.

    There are books that I have abandoned because they are difficult to read – the writing is not fluid and it’s hard to follow.

    Had these author taken the time to hire an editor (self-editing is one of the most difficult tasks there is, and often proves fruitless), their story could have been something really special.

    The more we write, the more we develop our craft. Many authors tell me they have one “crappy novel in the drawer,” but they had to write that to get to the better novel.

    So I guess we’re back to “practice makes perfect,” as it were. As anything, the more we do it, the better we get.

    I salute anyone who has taken the time, effort and energy to write a book. Keep writing, keep improving!

  • http://flowerpatchfarmgirl.blogspot.com/ Flower Patch Farmgirl

    I’ve found that I can be sucked in to a strange/confusing/bland story without a fight if the writing is captivating. One of my all-time favorite reads falls into this category. I didn’t give it much thought until I found myself recommending it to friends, “The story took some very strange turns and lost me altogether a few times, but her writing is flawless!”

    Maybe it’s just me. :)

  • http://www.danerickson.net Dan Erickson

    I think the average reader has always preferred a great story over perfect craft. I think that is even more the case with younger readers. However, a certain amount of craft will always be required for writers to reach the highest levels of praise.

    My editor just returned my second manuscript, “At the Crossing of Justice and Mercy.” He said my strength is telling the story, moving the plot, and keeping the reader engaged. Isn’t there a craft to being able to do that? My weakness is a lack of detail and description at times. The thing is, I prefer to tell the story in a minimalist style, letting the reader fill in some of the gaps. Is that craft?

  • http://www.jamiebeck.com Jamie Beck

    As a reader and aspiring author, I’d like to believe that both matter equally. However, in the past year, I’ve read nearly 200 books, including a fair share of schlock (some of the current best sellers in the romance genre) to educate myself about what readers like. I can tell you that, by and large, it is depressing. In my genre, it seems that ‘good’ or ‘great’ now means over-the-top sex scene after sex scene with domineering, totally unrealistic heroes, etc. Thus, it appears the neither story nor craft matters very much!

    I like some literary fiction, but prefer quality commercial (Jodi Picoult, Lisa Kleypas). I will never have the skill of either of these two ladies, but I hold them out examples of craft meeting story and providing great entertainment. Every time I sit to write, I try to improve my craft and storytelling skills. I hope, if I ever publish, that there will still be readers looking for both!

  • http://www.debhathaway.com Deb Hathaway

    Apples and Oranges. A book needs both story and craft to hold a reader’s attention.

    Having owed a few book stores in my life I noticed readers are interested in craft heavy books during the winter months and story heavy ones in the summer. There is a place for every book written… and a reader for each.

    Personally I feel the winds of change coming. Story will always be story… but ‘Craft’ is able to change with the times. It is still there, just a little different. A lot of the ‘old rules’ are successfully being broken or simply ignored… and that’s OK. It’s a new world out there… and change is good.

    I loved the analogy of using a lump of gold. Without the craftsman turning it into a piece of jewelry, what good is it? Go one step further… in the past ornate victorian pieces were all the rage. Now it’s time for more clean lined ‘modern’ pieces. The craft is still needed… but different techniques are used.

    Quilting is a passion of mine. In the old days quilts were sewn by hand out of feed sacks. They were pretty, useful, and treasured. Today MODERN QUILTS have taken center stage. They are sewn entirely by machine out of fabric loomed by mills. They are pretty, useful, and treasured. Same thing, but different.

    In the reading and writing world… you still need craft to tell your story… just new techniques and rules are being used.

    • http://charmainetdavis.com Charmaine T. Davis

      Deb,
      By far, you have presented the most balanced response to this post. Change. It’s all about change and most people don’t like it.
      As the wagon makers and typesetters found out–change or pick another hobby.

  • http://infinitecharacters.com/ Connie Almony

    I’ve read beautifully crafted writing that gave me hope the story would be an extraordinary metaphor for life—but it didn’t. I reveled in the words for a time, but then it ended almost as if it should have trailed off with an ellipsis … Unfinished. And I felt empty.

    On the other hand, I’ve read novels with great stories, where I kept asking myself, “Why can’t I get into this? I can’t feel for the characters. I’m not experiencing the action. I’m not feeling the emotion.” Yes it’s all on the page, but something about it keeps me at a distance. As I learn more about craft, I realize now what it is. Things like showing vs. telling, deep POV, sensory detail and pacing. Sometimes action scenes are written with long, thought-provoking sentences that slow things down. Passages meant to be thoughtful feel more like lectures because the words rush out of the character without hesitation. Vague telling makes me feel like I’m listening to a camp-fire story rather than experiencing it firsthand.

    Absolutely, self-publishing changes everything! We have more access to a greater variety of books at a much smaller price. I’m more willing to lay out a couple bucks for what could be a mediocre read, but reading still requires an investment of my TIME, which I will never get back, so I’m becoming more selective even of the cheaper books. I still want both craft AND story.

    However, where self-publishing has the greatest advantage is in the breadth of story the industry allows. With all the talk of publishers wanting to see something new, I keep reading the same stories told by a different character. I worry publishers will put themselves out of business because they won’t take enough risks to try something different in their zeal to accept only what has sold in the past.

  • http://jillhaugh.blogspot.com Jill Haugh

    Very interesting discussion and I think a timely topic. I love literary novels. Always have. I enjoy savoring the words, and I tend to read with a nod toward craft. I cut my teeth on Louise Erdrich’s “Love Medicine” back in the dark ages and it changed the way I read and write.
    Like what Deb had to say about the quilts and craft. Very apt.
    ~Just Jill

  • http://lindsayharrel.blogspot.com Lindsay Harrel

    It seems to me like you HAVE to have a great story hook to catch anyone’s eyes these days…a fresh spin on a story idea. However, if you can’t deliver the story idea with finesse, it doesn’t mean much, to me anyway. On the other hand, someone could be a great writer, but have a boring story.

    So, like others have said, I think you need both, although I think people in general are MORE likely to put up with bad writing if the story is really, really engaging.

  • http://www.krystal-wade.com Krystal Wade

    I’ve read your blog for a long time, but I hardly ever comment. Today, I just couldn’t hold my tongue.

    This post discusses something that’s bothered me for months. I see so many self-pubbed authors–and to be fair, even indie and major publishers–putting out work that lacks not just decent editing, but editing at all.

    Some books are top sellers and I can’t even make it through a page without cringing…yet readers eat this material up.

    As someone who’s worked really hard to learn the craft and help others learn the craft, this frustrates me. Some days I feel like *some* of these self-published authors and publishers are smacking us all in the face. “Haha. We’re rushing this book out there because we know it will sell. Neener, neener, neener!”

    But the thing is, they’re doing their READERS a great disservice. Sure, the story is what people read for, but good God, our children don’t know how to spell the word ‘you’ anymore. “U” look familiar?

    Shouldn’t we promote PROPER writing? Shouldn’t we want our readers to learn something from these books as well as enjoy them? No book will ever be perfect, but why teach grammar in school if the world just abandons it?

    Okay. I think I feel better.

  • Jeanne T

    Many others have said it, and I agree that craft and story are definitely tied together. A compelling story idea that has poorly developed characters and plot will not make for a good end result. Craft can make a story great.

    Yes, many readers tend toward the next story, well-written or not. But, the stories that endure and are talked well of usually have been crafted well.

    As a writer, I know I need to use “craft” to write a compelling story people will want read, and hopefully speak positively to their friends about it.

  • Brian Tarbox

    I think the lack of craft just enhances our appreciation when we see it. I’ve truly loved Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller stories…largely because his prose feels like poetry!

  • http://www.meghancarver.blogspot.com Meghan Carver

    I wonder if it’s like telling a joke. The joke itself might be great, but if you can’t deliver it with the right punch….

  • Neil Larkins

    Think of writing as oral story-telling on paper…or a screen, if you will. Two people telling the same story will get two different reactions from the audience. It’s all in delivery – craft. Indeed, a terrible story in the hands of a clever story-teller can become great. And a great story can be murdered by a teller who has no sense of pace, timing, inflection, etc. We’ve all heard both. So, refering back to Brandon and others, the two are indeed different but of equal and important quality.

  • http://www.inspired2ignite.com Denise Hisey

    Can we have one without the other?

    I’ve started some books that sound like amazing stories, but didn’t finish them because the writing was terrible.

    Likewise, I’ve tried to read books that were grammatically correct, but too B-O-R-I-N-G to continue.

    Seems like it’s all about balancing the two.

  • http://www.mepickett.com Michael Pickett

    I think that recent example from film could be illuminating. I was talking to a friend about what he thought of the new Hobbit movie. He described his thoughts this way: he loved the original Lord of the Rings movies and he was so excited by Fellowship that he wanted to see then next one right then. At the end of The Hobbit, he walked out of the theater liking the movie, but lacking that excitement.

    I think that is what craft does. LOTR and the Hobbit have very similar stories, but my assessment is that the LOTR movies display great craft, and the Hobbit lacks it. While much of the audience will like both, its the craft that will get them excited both to seek out whatever comes next and to tell their friends about it.

  • http://einefeistyberg.wordpress.com Cherry Odelberg

    Story verses Craft? I think you cannot have one without the other without disappointment and negative result for the reader.

  • http://einefeistyberg.wordpress.com Cherry Odelberg

    In music there is a thing that breaks my heart; yea, two:
    1) The natural born musician with a great ear who will not take the trouble to learn to read notes
    2) A person who is tone -deaf, but skilled at reading notes
    Some things ought not to be. The earth trembles.

    • http://pjcasselman.wordpress.com P. J. Casselman

      Good analogy, Cherry!

  • http://www.candidkathryn.com Kathryn Elliott

    I liken craft to those fabulously decorated cupcakes popping up all over the place nowadays. They look delicious, entice the hungry shopper, but unless the recipe (story) is delicious, it’s not worth the calories.

  • http://writingsailor.blogspot.companies Doug

    When every editor I contact comes back with, “not accepting new clients at this time.” It leaves with few options other than self publishing. If my writing is horrible say so. There is motivation in the truth.

    • http://pjcasselman.wordpress.com P. J. Casselman

      Response does dictate action. “This story is not a good fit for me” makes one think that there are two man round holes out there, so might as well create a square one with self-publishing.

  • http://www.tyunglebower.com Ty Unglebower

    As with so many issues, I think there is a mixture of more than one truth here.

    I think that genre fiction that is poorly written has always, when it catches a certain wave, sold in blockbuster status. Are we now in an era where “craft” matters less in the determination of what is a blockbuster? Almost certainly, but I don’t think that’s a conscious decision on the part of the market.

    People don’t say, “I will now chose to buy books with more plot and less literary “quality”. They buy what moves and excites them in the most efficient manner in this light-speed world, and that generally is not literary fiction. So millions of people attempt to capture that formula, and carpet bomb agents with their manuscript. And when it doesn’t fly there, they self-publish.

    On the other hand, people self-publish literary works as well, that they feel are not getting a chance to stand out in a “genre fiction” dominated market.

    Much of it is the traditional publishing industry. It gives out many mixed signals about what it wants. It seems to fancy itself a gatekeeper of high quality writing, but consistently makes the most economic decision, caring only for books that are likely to become blockbusters, and those are the ones they buy for publication. Even then, they don’t believe enough in most books of any genre to bother with marketing them anymore.

    Many of their decisions these days seem to be based neither on literary quality nor on formulaic plot, but on, “how many Twitter followers does this want to be author have?”

    It’s partially the industry’s fault. If it took more risks, it would see more rewards, and perhaps people would continue to see the value in literary writing.

    But niehter type of fiction is going anywhere, but both are going to have to accept change. The very split between “literary” and “genre” fiction will have to go away some day. Literary authors will not be able to afford to dismiss genre fiction as lesser writing, and genre fiction authors will have to someday reckon with the merits of literary. The pendulum swings, and eventually stops right in the middle of two extremes.

    Plot driven books with literary prose is probably where the future lies.

  • http://Silkwoodandsteel.tumblr.com Darcie Gudger

    My observation is that great craft calls little attention to itself, letting the reader BECOME the main POV characters. The story rises to the top, blurring those lines between reality and fiction. Poor craft keeps the reader on the outside looking in.

    At least that is how I define craft and symbiotic relationship with story.

  • http://jennybaileybooks.com Jenny

    I agree that craft is being sacrificed for quick production of page-turners.

    I don’t mind page-turners, we all appreciate them sometimes.

    But human nature will always gravitate toward what is easier. And I do mind the idea of craft being lost altogether.

    It is the loss of yet another discipline.

    Like so many other things, whether or not craft will survive will depend on whether writers and readers are willing to work through it to gain the value from it.

    IF story is becoming the end-all-be-all, it is consistent with other trends in our fast-paced, visually-oriented, immediately-gratified society.

    Craft is still important because it tempers these things.

    It does matter. It bothers me. But I don’t have the time right now to further CRAFT a well-constructed argument! ;)

    Thanks.

  • http://andreastake.blogspot.com Andrea Strong

    Read Shakespeare. Read Jane Austen. Read Mark Twain. All these were popular writers in their own times, and remain so today. Their styles are widely varied, but they have great stories in common.

    Craft changes over time. Head-hopping is an example. I had never heard of it five years ago, but now I find some of my old favorites are full of it. It’s on practically every page sometimes.

    When I found this out re-reading one of those old favorites recently, it tripped me up for a few pages. I started analyzing the scenes to see which point of view I would have chosen. Every time I chose, I had to toss out something I liked from the scene. Ultimately, I decided it was still one of my favorite books ever, head-hopping and all.

    Show vs. Tell is another thing. I pulled out Pride and Prejudice and flipped through it after reading this post. Jane Austen goes on, sometimes for pages at a time with out a single line of dialogue…nothing but telling.

    Of course, these days Jane Austen falls firmly in the “literary” category. But did she then? She was the Nora Roberts of her day, an early standard bearer for the Romance genre.

    One last point, and I promise to stop typing. The semester I took Shakespeare in college, I worked with a perky 16 year old girl. One evening after closing time, while we cleaned tables and mopped floors, I told her the plot of The Taming of the Shrew (my favorite Shakespearean comedy, which we had just read in my class). She was astounded. Apparently it was the same, down to the character’s names, as a movie she had just rented called 10 Things I Hate About You. She had loved it!

    I had heard of the movie, but shunned it In my superior, intellectual, college student mind, it appeared to be just another silly teen movie. I promptly rented it, and I loved it to!

    I guess my point is that craft changes, but a great story is a great story. You can apply the craft rules of any generation to a truly great story, and it doesn’t become less great. By the same token, you can apply the same rules to a shoddy story, but ultimately, it’s still a shoddy story.

  • http://www.artesianministries.org Donna Pyle

    A compelling story suffers with poor craftsmanship. My two cents? You need a compelling story first, because the writing excellence won’t matter if the reader starts yawning at page 2. Generate a great story then learn out how to write it well (or find someone who can).

  • Megan B.

    As a writer and as a reader, I value quality of craft. However, I would sooner read a good story with so-so writing than a dull story with excellent writing.

    But there are other factors, too. Terrible writing will turn me off no matter how good the story. (That’s just me, of course!)

    I think writers should strive to be as good as possible at their craft. And I think good writing will always be respected. There are plenty of poorly written best-sellers that many people laugh at or criticize. As a writer, I’d rather be respected and sell less books.

  • Melanie Schulz

    I hope, as a writer, that even in self or indi published books that writers are doing their best at perfecting their craft

  • http://www.cjdarlington.com C. J. Darlington

    I think BOTH are still hugely important. The way I figure it, if we as writers can be great at our craft AND create an awesome story, then how can we lose? :) At the least, we’ll have a better chance, right? I do believe we need both.

  • http://dalesittonrogers.wordpress.com Dale S. Rogers

    I think you’re right, Rachelle, but I wish it weren’t so. And while I wouldn’t want to go back to the Victorian era, I still appreciate proper sentence structure and grammar, and good descriptions.

  • http://pra.getsquared.me Patrick Aquilone

    I think this is an interesting question especially since I fall in the category of being able to tell a compelling story but not able, YET, to craft it very well. For me, I am employing my own editor for the books that I will self publish.

    But back to the question. I think that craft is important to a point. However, there are many books that I have read that are crafted really well but didn’t really tell a story. So, story is king. You have to have a story to tell and it must be interesting. After that, I agree that a certain amount of craft is needed. However, I do think that for a first time author publishing houses have been in the past too strict (especially when long time established authors can put out crap and they still publish it, of course, not all). So, I think there needs to be a balance.

    :)

  • http://www.samjolman.com Sam Jolman

    I sure hope the craft still matters. I will quit reading a book if the writing is too distracting or too terrible.

    I think some publishers will be about selling lots of books to make money. And that’s it. Others seem to care about the craft.

  • http://www.carlalaureano.com Carla Laureano

    Given the dwindling number of titles published and cutbacks in editing at the major houses, it cannot be an either-or proposition.

    Imagine you are an acquisitions editor with two manuscripts on your desk. Both fit the same slot in your catalog, and both are marketable. One has a great story, but will take many many hours of editing to bring the writing up to par. The other has a great story, but is already very well written, requiring far less of your attention. Which would you choose?

    With so many authors competing for so few slots, writers can’t afford to focus on one at the expense of the other.

  • Ann Averill

    Being a writer has made me a reading snob. When I choose a book, I read the back cover and the jacket flap.If the story line interests me,I proceed to the first chapter. I can tell almost instantly the caliber of the writing. And that’s the deal breaker.

    Knowing the craft, raises the bar. Once you’ve relished a gourmet recipe, who can go back to McDonald’s.

  • http://claireleyana.wordpress.com/ Claire Leyana

    I’ve picked up a few books because the story sounded interesting and like something I wanted to read. And then was so annoyed by the way it was written, put the book down. I only ever finish books where I’m completely taken by the way it’s written. I don’t think a good story can be told without good craft. But, then again, I also think a lot of people don’t care. I think a lot of the time people pick up a book because it’s fashionable.

  • Scott

    My favorite books are well-written with great stories. However, I’m more likely to forgive story flaws if I enjoy the writing (think Steinbeck’s minor works) than the other way around.

  • http://marysuttonauthor.com Mary Sutton

    So many good analogies – I particularly like the cupcake one.

    I haven’t read every reply, but it seems I fall in with most others. You need story and craft. You might have a great story, but if you switch POV ever third sentence, throw grammar out the window, or commit any other “craft no-nos,” I’m going to give up – whether self or traditionally published.

    That said, I think a large portion of people are gobbling up works viewed as being “poor craft” because, well, they just don’t know any better. As the mother of two, I see a degradation in basic reading/grammar skills. Spelling isn’t valued (well, what does it matter if you spelled it “clew” or “clue” as long as you can be understood). If I had a nickel for every time “that” was used improperly for “who” I’d be a rich woman. At the same time, some teachers enforce the rules so strictly that they are out of touch (I helped my daughter with an English worksheet on indefinite pronouns – and one of them I would have never in a million years have used a pronoun).

    Add that to the “reality TV” instant gratification culture, and, well…

    Neither do I think this is any difference from the rise of paperbacks and pulp fiction. I’m sure the “heavy hitters” of their day despaired of cheap detective stories and I know most people thought that the paperback would be the ruination of publishing.

    Whoever said “change” hit it on the head. English is an evolving, living language. Some of the tenets of craft are going to change and a good writer will change with them.

    But the need for a good story, something people can relate to? That will never change (at least not in my opinion).

  • http://www.talebearers.com Price McNaughton

    I think it is a combination of both. No matter how good a storyline is, it has to be told well to make an impact.

    I think every reader has a different take on it as well. I can overlook some problems with spelling and grammar, but plot holes or “facts” that are not correct really bother me. When I self-published my book, A Vision of Murder, I had an editor and ten beta readers go over it. A few mistakes still slipped through and a few readers complained about it.

    They were easily corrected, but to those readers it was a major problem. I know now that the errors ruined the book for those readers and I feel bad about that. On the other hand, I had several readers write positive reviews based on the storyline, plot, and characters that either never mentioned the errors or counted them as slight. One reviewer admitted that there were a few grammar errors (at the time) and she didn’t like the font, but then she said “All in all, it’s the story that matters and it was excellent.”

    In my opinion, it depends on the reader. Those few that are going to complain about errors in grammar and spelling are going to balance out the ones that are going to complain about weakness in storyline and plots. Believe me, the readers will let you know and I think they will end up keeping both the craft of writing and the storytelling aspect balanced in the future.

  • Jen

    I think there is a huge curiosity between what publishers give the general public and what self publishers can give us with no restrictions.
    People are curious by nature and we want to know what is being held back from us on the pages of our books. Especially when big name authors mention they had to cut pages of content, or scenes in stories we love, (understandable in the publishing industry where standards must be met and kept.) But naturally we wonder what was really in our favorite writers heads till the books were edited for content or to meet page numbers.
    I think many people look to new authors as something exciting,since we do not know what to expect from their writing styles yet.

    As much as we love and know the famous writers, they can become almost too “dependable” to the point where we know the stories outcome because we know that writers style, and what characters will do next. (This comfort level is also in part why we buy their books) but we also want a chance to discover a real “GEM” of a story teller.

    Many times we read about books that had been accepted for publication had to have tons of content pages cut. As curious readers we sometimes want to know that content, to be honest we are not concerned with the story we are read meeting the editorial market demands of say 220,000 words or 300 to 350 pages, thats just something we don’t have to think about as readers. In the end though we just want a really good book to get lost in.

    However with that said, we also need the writing to be believable, solid, and good in both content and editing. The two go hand in hand with no exceptions. Every bad sentence and error distracts the readers mind from the job the writer has a responsibility to do, and that is making the story flow in the minds eye of our readers. Bad writing 100% distracts from a story no matter how awesome the concept may be.

    We understand the hard job editors must do and the demands they must meet to bring us these amazing reads. When we are reading a captivating story that is flawlessly edited, we do not even think about that, we don’t have too- if the editor did their job, there will be nothing to be distracted by.
    However, when we are reading a badly structured book, we will remember and may not give that author a second chance.
    I can think of one such trilogy that came out recently that had a “risky” content for adult readers, but was toted as being badly written in content, sentence structure and general style. However this writer will go one to publish many more books at demand, why? because the author was new and the story peeked curiosity and even created some scandal. Those that must read it are not doing so due to the editorial content, but rather the page contents.

    Story will always be number one to attract readers, but no matter how perfectly the editing flow and sentence structure, we need to be engaged in what we are reading from page one, and never disappointed by the closing page. That is what most of us will remember when we put that book down. We will either say that was a waste of money or we will look for their next book. I know I do.

    Writers are generally not editors, we are imaginative story tellers, bring forth what is in the boundless limits of our minds. We need to work with professionals to refine, fix, and polish our tales no matter how great our concept we can all benefit from that. We OWE that to our readers for taking the time to invest in our craft.

  • http://www.rebastanley.com Reba

    I’ve heard that question being addressed at my writers group a few times. My thoughts on the subject is; if the story is not good, who cares if it is written extremely well because you are not going to read it.
    On the other hand, if it is not written well that will take away from the story.
    For me personally, I am working on achieving a good story that is well written. I guess you can say I want both. :0]

  • Pingback: Book Bits: MGM picks up Moyes’ novel, Salinger biography, ‘Merivel,’ Era of story over craft? « The Sun Singer's Travels

  • http://thewritingplace.wordpress.com/ Carol Benedict

    For the most part, I think we like the style we grew up with, or first fell in love with as readers. My mom adored Grace Livingston Hill books all her life; I thought they were poorly written. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation matter to me; my kids don’t care as long as they get the meaning.

    With the advent of instant messaging, e-readers, apps for mobile devices, etc., I believe the trend will be toward shorter, story-driven books that don’t always adhere to the formal rules of grammar. Readers will adapt as the technology changes.

    • http://www.janthompson.com Jan Thompson

      “I believe the trend will be toward shorter, story-driven books that don’t always adhere to the formal rules of grammar.”

      While that might very well be true, it does scare me as both a writer/reader.

      I once attempted to read a novel that was supposed to be the next blockbuster. Well, from the first page on, it read like texting with the words spelled out. Grammar was upside down. Usage was sideways. A 3rd Grade reader flowed better than that hardcover novel. Sure enough, the author produced no other books after that one, as far as I could tell.

      Readers can tell. It’s our pocket money that’s at stake. We readers like to get good returns for our investments.

      :-)

  • http://www.baldeaglebaptist.org David Spaugh

    I ran into this when writing my (yet to be published) novel. I wrote it, then picked up a couple of books saying “don’t use “ly” adverbs, don’t use descriptive terms that people can’t really do or are overly metaphorical (a “cold” stare: stares don’t have a temperature), don’t use two adverbs when one strong one will suffice, etc. “These are big turn offs for agents and publishers” I was told, “a sure sign of poor, amateurish writing.”

    So, I go back and rewrite, changing all the “mistakes” I made. Then I pick up some best selling novels, go through them, and see they break all the rules: page after page of ly adverbs, two adverbs instead of one, etc. If breaking the rules is poor writing, then how did these books get picked up? And if they got picked up, then apparently the writing doesn’t matter as much as the story. The problem is, “how do I know what is good and bad, when it appears it is all subjective?” A little frustrated here.

  • http://www.josephwrichardson.com Joe Richardson

    I can’t speak for the rest, but I’m all about the tale well told.

    If there’s no music in the language, no poetry in the prose, I can’t find a pulse in the narrative.

    If I’m buying a book, you can bet I’ll keep searching until I find music and lyrics on the page. I expect both from my own writing, and I certainly expect it from anyone I read.

  • http://www.jenniwiltz.blogspot.com Jenni Wiltz

    I’ve spent 35 years trying to become the best writer I can possibly be, sinking myself $30K in debt for a Master’s, all because I love words and storytelling. Now I feel like none of it matters because books with atrocious grammar and middle-school-level storytelling consistently sell, especially in ebook format. It doesn’t mean I’ll ever give up…it just means I feel like craft means very little anymore.

  • http://www.janthompson.com Jan Thompson

    Interesting discussion. For me, the story is what makes me read the novel. But if the craft is poor, it will interrupt the flow of the story, and ruin my reading experience.

    IMO the craft is there all the time, shadowing the story. A good writer will be so skilled in her craft that all the reader will notice is how much she is enjoying the story.

    :-)

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  • Sam

    This argument has been had before. When cheap paperbacks became popular entire genres of trashy pulp fiction emerged and it was “Woe! The end of literature!” E-books and self-pub are the new mass market paperback. I believe there will always be room for quick story-driven reads, more leisurely literary reads, and oh that glorious middle ground, the beautifully written genre fiction. ;)

  • http://jeanrosenow.com Jean Rosenow

    I don’t know, Rachelle. I agree with you on Barbara Kingsolver…what a story that woman can write! My two favs are Kent Haruf (the king of characterization as far as I’m concerned) and an older British writer – Jean Stubbs – who can craft a book second to none (If you’ve never read ‘By Our Beginnings’, you’ve missed a treat).

    I published my own book through Amazon (Create Space) last year because I’m 66 years old and have relatives in their 80′s and 90′s who wanted to see the thing in print. It had been turned down by some of the best and I just decided I’d rather see it in print now than begin the rounds of the smaller presses. I’m pretty proud of that book…all 55,000 words of it, which makes it too short for most publishing houses…and even though the hero and heroine (both late middle aged) don’t meet face to face until the last chapter, which means it’s not a romance…and even though one of the pivotal characters is a young man with Down syndrome. Obviously the book has no discernible genre, there is no sex and no real romance…just a couple of lonely farmers wondering where life has gone and wishing they had someone special to spend the rest of it with. And a fellow with DS who knows more about what his sister has sacrificed to care for him all these years than she realizes. Maybe some of the indie-pubs are like me…nothing present to actually scream ‘this is a marketable story that should bring in tons of money for our publishing house’, but dear to the heart of the writer nonetheless.

    Story? Craft? In the eyes of my readers, uneducated in what it actually takes to make a book marketable, my book has been a hit. I’m able to donate a little from each sale to a local charity that builds homes for developmentally disabled adults. It’s a success as far as I’m concerned. But I’m sorry I never learned the craft well enough to impress the ones who know how these things should be done, and I’m sorry no one ‘important’ considered what it is like for people to watch the prime age for relationships and marriage pass by while responsibilities make them nothing more than an unattractive package deal.

    This probably hasn’t answered the question you posed, but perhaps it explains why some of us decide to go with an independent publishing house and how we can enjoy seeing our work in print…with or without the validation of a major publisher.

    Jean Rosenow
    Blessed are the Pure in Heart

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  • http://vaughnroycroftblog.com Vaughn Roycroft

    Rachelle, seems like you struck a nerve. It makes me wonder, do you really read all your comments? I can’t imagine you could find the time. Good job!

    • Sidney Ross

      Vaughn,
      It would shock me if anybody actually reads the comments here including Ms. Gardner other than for the obvious, to see the divide of ones own self. This is a blog about “self” don’t you know? Everyone throwing darts at the board looking to see whom can strike closest to a personal bulls eye. No one really keeping score. No one really winning here. All just playing the lottery of who’s and wooh’s. Individuals attempting to codify his/her own measure of hireling. Perhaps you’ve noticed you never see THE stephen king climbing these rung? Perhaps a raven or two, nevermore? It’s all just biscuits and jam though, don’t you think? I do love this forum, nonetheless.

  • Sidney Ross

    Though I must say. There are a good many darts on the board, I felt the other feathers when I hurled mine.

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  • http://www.kerrygans.com Kerry Gans

    I think Story has always trumped craft. You can have a beautifully written book, but if there’s no story to it, no one will read it. Conversely, a reader will forgive a certain amount of craft roughness if the story is sweeping them along.

    Of course, there are books that have both story and craft, and that is what we all strive for. Those books that have both will be the ones that last for generations.

    • Sidney Ross

      Kerry,
      well put:)

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  • Leanne Bridges

    I don’t think it is an either-or question.

    I believe there are so many different reading ‘audiences’. I will say that I often struggle with literary novels. There have been some that I have read and enjoyed but I find it a lot more pleasant and rewarding to slip into the Rain Wilds or the island of Thisby.

    I do pay careful attention to craft and read all that I can about the development of those skills to enhance my writing because I feel it essential to always strive to improve. I do not use the varied audiences as permission not to commit my writing life to being an eternal ‘student’.

    However, I also feel strongly that there will always be audiences that prefer and are able to appreciate magnificent literary works just as there will always be readers who love and prefer to escape into the wonderful and varied worlds of genre fiction.

    I am glad of the variety of writing levels because I know that each kind of reader is catered for.

    And so long as people are reading and loving it, I am a happy, happy person.

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