Good writing won't save a bad story. Bad writing won't necessarily kill a good story. Thoughts?
I read something along these lines recently and I can't remember who wrote it. King? Hemingway? There's no excuse for poor writing, but I'm thinking about the value of a good story idea. Is a good story line so powerful that it can even withstand poor writing? Is a story line so vital that even good writing can't save a bad one?
I published a really bad flash fiction story the other night here on HP. I pulled it down after a few minutes, but ten people got to witness my poor judgement. The writing wasn't the problem. It was the story line.
Hmm, interesting to ponder such, Cam. I believe you have something here. In my mind, there must be a good story for no matter how good the writing is, if the story is not even worth telling, then I think good writing will not make any difference. However, if you have a great story and some of the writing is not up to standard, the story still seems to hold its own most of the time, as I have seen here on HP. Of course, a good story becomes great when the writing is excellent.
Faith, Wow, there is some great input in these answers, your's included. Your last sentence sums it up well, "A good story becomes great when the writing is excellent." Thanks for participating in this question.
Thanks, I, too, have unpublished two of my hubs just because I was not happy with the final product. I think we can sense if it is good or not ourselves. I wish I had a chance to read yours before you unpublished though.
You two are brave people to pull down a story when you're not happy with it. Every artist (writer, musician, painter, etc.) thinks of their creation as the most beautiful baby in the world. To see it in reality though, that takes guts.
Sometimes, readers can excuse your bad writing if you offer them a gripping story. There were writers, indeed famous ones, renowned for high value in their writings. But their writing styles were not so great. At the end, what matters is your story. This is what I believe.
How do you know if someone is a good writer? By their stories, of course. A good writer won't write a bad story. They just won't want to.
It's like Ansel Adams said of photographers (paraphrased) - The only way to tell who is a good photographer is by looking at their photos.
And that is how you know a good writer - read their stories! :-)
Good writers will polish their skills like a photographer polishes his skills.
Good writers will edit their stories until they are good.
Good writers will recognize bad stories and they will change them if need be.
Good writers do write bad stories from time to time, but they can see the problems and they will rewrite and unpublish (just like you did!)
You must be a good writer!
I'm with you on this one. Book readers pay good money, so they should expect at least both a good story AND good writing. I have to admit I've let one or two typos through in editing my books, though.
Lela, to me, your logic is as sound as it could be. A good writer simply won't stop until both the quality of writing and the strength of the story line are the best she/he can make them. Thanks for a thoughtful, straightforward answer.
And thank you! Chris. I like the idea of once discovering a good writer means that other books by the same writer will probably be good too. It's not a given fact, but something to base reading choices on.
You're welcome, Lela. There are loads of good insights here. It's a good read all the way through with excellent comments from very good writers. You stayed close to my question and nailed some important points. Thanks everyone who commented.
Can't argue with that logic, Lela. Good writers and good stories are inseparable.
I would have to disagree with the statement. I've read quite a few classics that have meandering stories, saved only by the power of the author's artistry with words. While there is no shortage of symbolism that English teachers can extract from the text, the core plot line is not the book's strength. I suppose the argument could be made that the 'story' is told through all of the parts, not just the plot, but if that's the case, then is the story written by the good writer, really bad?
On the other side, I've seen bad writing kill good stories. Imagine that it's like trying to look at a beautiful painting through a dirty window. I knew a writer once who was so bad at editing that even her 'final' draft was riddled with spelling/grammatical errors, syntax problems, and a severe lack of overall proofreading. Saying that the story is good, but that the writing needs polish is just a polite way of saying "it's bad". Good ideas are a dime a dozen, being able to implement them is what publishers and readers find valuable.
...as from the audience of a quirky poet (that's a good thing)..I may be the only out there.
Chuck Palahniuk, a well-spiced contemporary novelist and essayist would most likely be a greater person than I to address this question. Since he is a writer of transgressional fiction, and I quirky poetry, and we both are of Ukranian descent, I will try to answer anyway, to give your questions a fair audience. . Here goes!
: 1. Yes, a powerful story line can withstand poor writing. Beatrix Potter, in my opinion did this in The Tale of Pigland Bland. Others may strongly disagree with that When I've read it, that's the feeling I get, and not knowing her personally, this small book is one of many and maybe she wrote it that way on purpose. I've had fun with young children as we laughed saying, I don't like The Tale of Pigland Bland. Is it a poor writing? A bad storyline? Might not matter, it's still a published story line after all those years!!! Children and I haven't come up with the answer.. 2. No, good writing can save a bad story line. It's part of sentence structure, in my opinion. The Maddaddam Trilogy "The Year of The Flood " is my example for this answer. I struggle with the story line. It's not bad just because I am struggling, but I am part of her audience. Perhaps I am a poor judge of good writing, but she keeps me thinking on the wealth of her story line.
My examples may be bad, in answering your questions, but they are answers. My answers may be good, but they offer no cintribution to your questionst, really. Sounds like I left you back where you started...you have good judgement my friend, keep putting it out there!
Good story + bad writer, or bad story + good writer = mediocre.
But good story + good writer = bestseller, if it's marketed correctly.
(Unless the topic is sex...then all bets are off...just look at Fifty Shades of Gray...poor story, poorly written, but it's about sex, so...!)
Now that you know what's missing from your stories Will, are you going to write about sex starved cowboys and injuns?
If I had to resort to that in order to be read, I'd probably just hang up my spurs.
Ok, maybe I'll give it a go then. That Wes Study guy has always looked like one sexy injun to me. And I think the world is ready for some Native American hot stuff. Cowboys? They can be hot too.
LOL....Austin....I was married to a Native American for 12 years......but, My LIPS are sealed! I tell no secrets...
Will, how can anyone argue with math? It's a 1+1=2 equation. I do believe you are correct that mediocrity is the result in each case. What we need are excellent writers and excellent stories that include well written sex scenes. ;-)
I think we need to distinguish journalism and fiction here.
When I see poor mechanics in a non-fiction piece that supposedly is reporting information, I discredit that story immediately.
However, I have read first-person fiction written in vernacular that has drawn me into the story and kept me reading, even though I'm not that familiar with the style of the expression.
What's also meaningful to one reader may not be meaningful to another. (Comments on YouTube are perfect examples of this.)
So, all I can say is do your best. Write what your heart tells you first, then have a second pair of eyes give you some feedback. Changes may or may not work--listen to your intuition. Language and styles are constantly changing--just look at the language of text messages! (Well, we could go back to hieroglyphics, right?)
Seriously, though, if you're not feeling a passion about what you write, then it's time to DELETE and try something else.
I do believe when one writes from the heart, one cannot go wrong! Good points shared here, especially about the YouTube comments.
Excellent thoughts here Marie, and thanks for including some concrete examples to support your ideas. Passion about the process and the product will motivate us to produce excellent stories and articles that are written well. Thanks for taking part
I come to writing after spending 20+ years in the music industry. There is a saying in the music world that could apply here. A great song recorded really poorly is still a great song. A bad song recorded beautiful is just a great sounding lousy song. If you're not happy with your story, then you chose to keep your story writing integrity intact. That is the sign of a wise writer in my book. I also tend to agree with what Marie Flint said earlier. Writing is art. Use all the tools to serve your art not just Strunk and White.
Blair, I appreciate your use of music to illustrate. My son and I were discussing this and he,also a musician, related it to music. The emphasis on writing as art is important, although there is an element of scientific precision as well. Thanks
Faith Reaper, Thank you. You are very kind. :-)
I think good writing with some interesting word play can actually turn a rather mundane tale into a captivating story. In the same vein, I think bad writing really can crash the world's best story.
Mel Carriere, Thanks for sharing. Yes, your example of how to take a poor quality article/story and make it better is exactly what good writers do. Editing, when done well, elevates both the story line and the technical writing.
I think there is a lot of mileage in that, although from a personal point of view a good story told badly is something that I find painful to read. But many of the most successful commercial writers are not what I would describe as great writers. They are solid and formulaic, but they know how a story should work.
As for good writing not being able to save a bad story I think the good writers can find the part of the story which is interesting and develop that. I suppose I am saying that there is no such thing as story which doesn't have something to say. The best writers have a gift for finding that part of the story.
I tend to disagree, good writing can indeed save a bad story, its all about how you describe the story, you can describe one thing or event in so many various ways and perspectives that you can make it interesting, or build suspense. You can use word play, metaphor, symbolism, it doesn't matter, as long as its interesting, Bad writing killing a good story, Now that's wholly possible!!
Writers are truly resourceful people. We can salvage the good stuff out of a disastrous piece of writing and end up with a winner. Now you have me wondering if I can do anything for the one I unpublished here a few days ago. hmmm.....
Chris, You know the "soft boggy areas of land that give way underfoot" (dictionary def of quagmire) it's where the feet get wet! Perhaps that's where the storyline can begin to be told: Go for it! ~Christine
Chris, I know that if anyone can turn around a story, you can! I'm sure you can sort your own story out and produce a stunner. Go for it!
Ann, Ann, Ann.... now you've got me thinking about that story again. Thanks for that. Haha. I may have a look at it.
I know what you mean because I've done the same thing; not published then un-published but decided to scratch something I thought was initially ok.
The storyline has to hook people in and maintain an interest or an emotion. However, even with a good story, I think bad writing can kill it because the reader isn't able to concentrate on the story. From a personal point of view, bad writing annoys me and therefore ruins the experience for me.
On the other hand, a word-wizard can make paint drying sound amazing!
I suppose it depends on just how bad the writing is. Overall, I agree with you; the story has to be key. As others here have said, a good writer will give you both!
One can impress readers by adopting a good style of writing.However good be the story,if it is not written in a good manner,it can't impress me.
Good writing goes a long way to saving a story, however you really need a good story line. I was not one of those who saw your flash fiction piece so cannot judge.
I just read an article which said you can improve your writing by writing a short story a week. Short stories make you optimize your. You need a solid story line, but you can use a minimal amount of words.
A strong story line can die a slow death if the writing is bad. If the writing is bad, I won't bother to finish it. Who wrote it won't make any difference.
Hope that helped.
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