Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Good writing, good story

So, I've been editing one of my novels again, and reading a ton.

I've been thinking a lot as a result, about good writing, and good storytelling.

They're so personal, to a certain extent, of what I like, or you like. Especially good storytelling. Though I think an author with a strong sense of plotting can pull a reader through a story, even if it's not of particular interest.

It's amazing when you run across a book that has both strong writing and story. I'm primarily a reader for plot. With a good plot, I can forgive weak writing. But a terrible story isn't something enjoy wading through, even if the writing is strong.

Can you think of any examples of stories that have both strong writing and a great story? Here are a few examples that came to mind:

--Pretty much everything by Margaret Atwood. That's what makes her so amazing to me. Her writing is stunning and awe-inspiring, and her stories are always right up my alley. I'm her perfect audience.

--Pretty much everything by Kurt Vonnegut. His word choice is impeccable, and his humor is, well, what my humor would be if I was funnier.

--Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. A lot of his other work is okay writing with a strong story, or good writing with an okay story, or not-so-good writing with a not-so-good story. But Ender's Game is an amazing story with well-structured, well-plotted writing.

--The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. Writing so amazing it almost made me cry. It did make me go out and read everything else he'd ever written, none of which quite lived up, though much of it was quite good.

--The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. Excellent writing (though gotta give props to the translator there, too!), amazing story.

That's all I can think of, though I'm sure there are plenty more I've read that just aren't jumping to mind. But it is just so rare, that it's wondrous when it happens.

It's much more frequent that I read books that I really enjoy, maybe even love, that aren't written all that well. These are the books that give me hope. I know I should be aiming to write a novel that is both well written and interesting. But let's be honest: sometimes, when I'm editing, I have to admit that "well-written" might be beyond my abilities. So instead of throwing in the towel, I just think of these books and realize that I don't have to be perfect.

--The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. A few of my more discerning friends, who perhaps are slightly more snobbish with their reading selections than me (who will read just about any darn thing), have complained that The Hunger Games isn't well written. DUH! Who cares? Yes, it's a bit cringe-inducing at times, but the story! The story! Love, love, love!

--The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowlings. I'm hardly the first person to point out there are flaws, but again, who cares?

--Early entries in the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich. They've become so formulaic that I'd be hard-pressed to even say the more recent ones are redeemed by an engaging plot.

--A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. Okay, I'm stretching a little with this one. There are certainly weaknesses, but it wasn't until book 5 that I felt like I wasn't getting believable character voices. He's writing a true epic, capturing the voices of an amazingly large cast of characters, balancing myriad plot lines. Perhaps I should move this into the good writing/good story category!

As I said, I read for plot, so it's not that frequent I pick up a book where I suspect I won't find the story interesting. But I do occasionally make it through a novel that when I finish, I realize that while I can't say I really enjoyed the story, the writing made it all worthwhile. So here's my list of a few great writing/not-to-my-taste story:

--Everything I've read by Richard Russo. I mean, his stories are all boring slice-of-life old people in New England doing things I'm not that interested in. But I can't put his books down.

Hmm, Richard Russo books are the only ones I can think of. I really do tend to put down books if I'm not enjoying the plot.

And then, every once in a while, I come across a book that is so devoid of redeeming values that I'm hard pressed to understand why anyone buys it. And here I'm talking about popular novels...not those found-in-a-discount-bin-or-used-book-store that I've never heard of and really shouldn't be that surprised when it's not that good. I'm talking about those books that people actually like--and I just don't get why.

--The Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer. Okay, I'll be honest. Twilight was a quick enough read, and not too annoying, soI read the second book. Which was also a quick read, though more annoying. By book three, I was pretty disgusted, but still hoping for redemption. So I read book 4. Oh geez, that was time, and money, I can never get back. For the love of all that's good in the world, I would like to publicly warn everyone to steer clear of these. Don't let the lure of book one pull you down the rabbit hole!

--My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult. I think this holds the record for worst book I've ever read. Yes, even worse than the Twilight series. Even worse that any boiler-plate paranormal romance I'm too embarrassed to admit I've read. Who knows, maybe other books by her are better, but this was so bad, I'd never risk it.

--The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards. What was all the hullabaloo over this book? Not very good, IMO.

What do you think? What would you add to the list? These clearly aren't exhaustive lists, just what popped in mind at the mo'.

1 comment:

Jeanne Estridge said...

Your reading list fascinates me--fantasy, kids' fiction, romance, women's fiction, literary fiction. You do it all!

A couple of books I've read in the past few years that I really, really liked: The Mysterious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, The Life of Pi (okay, you probably read those years ago, I just go around to them.). Great writing and great stories. Alice I Have Been (about Lewis Carroll's Alice).

I think people should study Evanovich for tips on writing slapstick. She does physical comedy well enough to get away with a lot of otherwise crap.