Thursday, July 18, 2013

Writing Novels: Storytelling vs Craft

I read a book the other day. The whole 370 some pages. On a day I had the kids by myself, had four hours of sleep and barely had time to shower. It's the second in a series, in a genre I don't particularly care for. There are things about the writing that drive me CRAZY. Like throw my Kindle across the room crazy. The writer must have repeated the same two (stupid) observations about the mental states of the two main characters half a dozen times each. I GET their inner conflicts. You don't need to keep TELLING me, especially using the EXACT same phrasing.

So. Given my very limited free time and the fact that I kind of hate this book, why did I plow through it, devouring words like I just ended a hunger strike?

The characters. Gah, the characters. I BELIEVE in them. I believe in their romance. I desperately need them to end up together and resolve all the tension. I spent days after finishing in the kind of grief haze you experience when you realize a story is finished and you can't go back to the world it pulled you into.

Novels are a strange thing. There are two (at least) very unique elements that go into writing a novel: storytelling and craft. Someone like Stefanie Meyer is a master storyteller. Whatever your feelings about the Twilight series, chances are you have feelings. The relationships she created get under your skin. I read through at an embarrassing clip, with my inner 15-year-old dying of happiness. The rational part of myself sat back in horror, questioning why I could delight in something so obviously flawed.

The reverse of that is someone who is a master at craft, but the story fails to grab me. I KNOW Moby Dick is a classic for a reason, but I loathed reading it. I relish Tolkien's writing, but I finding reading his books a slog. Mind you, it's all subjective. My mom and brother reread The Lord of the Rings trilogy a couple times a year. They'd probably hate Twilight. But the fact remains, novels can be successful even if they only have one of these two elements.

When it comes to writing, I think craft comes easier to me. It can be learned. It can be improved. But storytelling, at least on some level, is innate. While you can memorize story arcs and fit your story into a perfect beat sheet, but without that thing, that intangible quality that makes a story REAL, it's just words.

And then there are those perfect books that somehow hit both aspects and everything is wonderful and there are angelic choirs and you race to Twitter to fangirl all over the poor unsuspecting writers. Those books? Those books are magic.

So I will continue to perfect my craft and search my heart for stories in hope that one day I will write that magic book that makes my readers rush to finish then ache because it's over. Because that's what I dream of as a writer.

What about you, dear readers? Do can you forgive craft for a killer story? Or tolerate a lackluster story for flawless craft?


  1. I am also an unashamed Twilight lover. While her writing may be flawed, her story wasn't. It took me four days to read all four novels, and opened my eyes to the YA world. So it will always reign high in my ranks.

    But yes, I also strive everyday to hit both of those aspects. And I hope that one day, we both are blessed enough to be able to reach that goal.

  2. I am like this on a level well it comes to writing. Twilight did have a decent plot and will be placed in my heart somewhere as my teen read that helped me through middle school. However, I can't forgive how stupid the fourth book seemed, almost as if she wrote it for money because of how stupid the plotline was.

    On the other hand, Maggie Stiefvater. I love her writing; it's so lyrical in ways I can't explain. She doesn't even need to detail a novel. She just finds the right words to suck you in, but one of her novels did disappoint me, but I couldn't not read it!

    In other words, you don't have to write a book to please everyone. Even if people hate it so much (like Twilight), then you did something right by giving everyone something to remember.

  3. Great distinction between writing style and characters. I've had the same thing happen, where I can't stop reading a book even though I *know* the writing isn't to my taste. I can't get enough of the character, though, so I keep going until, suddenly, the book is over and I'm sad. At the same time, I've read books with amazing writing and lackluster characters, and have had so much trouble keeping at them. Like you, I want to read about interesting people I can relate to and root for. (Which doesn't necessary mean ones I love and think are perfect. There's a difference.)

    Happy reading!