May 9, 2013

Writing vs Story

After writing my review of Shades of Earth the other day, it got me to thinking about how some writing I really connect with and some I don't. I stated in that review that I didn't especially enjoy the story overall, yet the writing drew me in and made me want to read it. I wondered if anyone even understood what I meant. Then I remembered a conversation at Hamlette's blog that reassured me. So I don't think I'm the only one who has felt this way. And by "this way" I mean the fact that the writing can be awesome yet the story not be as engaging. Or the story could be awesome and the writing so-so. Do you know what I mean?

I do think that what we, as readers, deem good writing or a great story all depends upon what we enjoy. In other words, we all have the type of writing that will suck us in and the type we don't connect with. The type of stories that will catch our attention and the type that won't. So everybody has their own opinion on these subjects. Please note that my opinions could differ quite a bit from yours. :)
My first example is, of course, the Across the Universe trilogy by Beth Revis. As I said in my review, Ms. Revis' writing is amazing! She definitely had a way of hooking me in and keeping me engaged enough to want to find out what happened. Even though I wasn't all that thrilled about the actual story.
An opposite example is the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer. Yes, I've read that series and yes, I'm going to talk about it. The biggest thing I remember thinking while I was reading them, was that the writing was really mediocre. It felt pretty simple to me, if that makes any sense at all. Yet the story itself (while far from perfect and I do acknowledge that it has plenty of problems) was engaging enough to keep me hooked through four really thick books! (Seriously, have you looked at the size of those books recently? They're huge! Very difficult to hold in my hand while trying to read them. In fact, I had to prop them on something while reading because my hands hurt from trying to hold them up.) So Ms. Meyer certainly has a way of imagining a story that will grab people. (As millions of women can attest to.)
Obviously the goal of most writers (I assume) is to be great at both writing and story. And I'm sure it's not easy trying to mesh those two things. But it's definitely possible! There's plenty of those examples out there too.
Take My Hands Came Away Red by Lisa McKay. I was blown away by this book! The writing was wonderful and the story swept me up and didn't let go until days and days after I was finished with the book.
That's probably the kind of writing that every writer dreams of. To make their readers unable to forget the story days or even months or years later.
The Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner is another awesome example of great writing and a terrific story. I didn't think I'd enjoy these books nearly as much as I did. But she was able to make me fall in love with the characters and care about a war between three separate countries.
Of course then there are the books where both writing and story are incompatible with the reader. Books that I couldn't finish and couldn't get into the story at all.
For example, Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson. I had read so many excellent reviews of that book and I thought for sure I'd like it. Alas, the story fell flat for me. I simply had no desire to finish it.
Perhaps there really isn't any rhyme or reason as to why we fall in love with one book and not with another. While I may love one book by an author, I may not like any of his/her other books. It could just depend on the moment in time. Maybe what you're going through in your life helps your mind decipher what it will enjoy and what it won't. Possibly our moods affect it or other external things as well.

All I know is that there are some books I love and some I don't. Some authors (though very few) that I love everything they write and some I don't. Whatever the reasons behind it, it just is. What say you?


  1. I like how you boiled everything down into categories like that! And yes, I've LOVED books before and rave reviewed them to someone...only for them to be only so-so about it.

    1. Thank you, Kellie! That's certainly happened to me too. I recommended The Queen's Thief series I mentioned above to a dear friend and she couldn't even finish the first book. But there are other stories that we both love to pieces. It's funny how we have some tastes the same and some not.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! :)

  2. Absolutely, Kara! Totally know what you are saying here. There are times I like the characters in a book very much but not the story/prose. Or vice versa. I think when you pick apart a book, the reader can always find something "critical" about it. And as you say, it's all dependent on the reader - where I may find a book wonderful, those I recommend it to may think, "...and that was good because..." I don't say it enough but I always have felt like reviewing should have the unspoken rule that each review is merely a reflection of the reviewer and that doesn't necessarily mean the book is for everyone.

    Who knows why a book sometimes appeals to us: perhaps it's the mood we are in at the time or perhaps it's that it "spoke" to us in ways other novels haven't - no matter the author's style. As you say, it just depends on the reader - and like you, sometimes I adore simple stories and writing, other times I am more critical of it.

    Reviewing has made me more critical in general but that's been helpful (how about you?). I used to think that just because I loved an author's first book or any of their books that I'd automatically like their others. Fortunately, I better learned how to "weed out" which books I'll like and which I won't because my time is worth something and I don't want to have to "force" myself through books if I can help it.

    Great post! :)

    1. That's exactly right, Rissi! ...each review is merely a reflection of the reviewer... Even people who generally have the same tastes in books will most likely disagree about a few here and there. And that's okay. That's part of the beauty of reading. The possibility of each reader connecting to the story differently and getting different things out of it. On that note, I appreciate reading multiple reviews of a book so I get a wide variety of how people connected or didn't connect.

      I do think how we connect to the characters must have something to do with it, along with our mood. I know I have times where certain stories simply don't strike me at all and a few days or weeks later, if I try it again, I may just fall in love with the book. And if I've experienced something similar to the character, that certainly helps me connect to them a lot easier.

      I've found myself reading a book and not really enjoying it, yet I try reading it again later and end up liking it a lot more. So it must have been my mood or something causing the critical part of me to be more prevalent the first reading. How or why that works is anybody's guess!

      I have noticed that since I've begun reviewing on a serious basis, I definitely read a lot more critically. And yes, it is helpful. I was never one to finish a story if I didn't like it (although I might skip to the end just to see how it finished), but I've become a little more picky and careful over what books I'll try. Yet at the same time I've branched out a lot more in genres. Not sure if that makes any sense, but anyway. ;) I'm learning that if I'm not in the mood for a book right now, then I'm better off waiting to read it later. I'd be too critical otherwise and I wouldn't enjoy myself. And that's what I want reading to be - enjoyable!

      I'm glad you understood what I was trying to say. I wasn't sure if I was getting my point across or not. So thank you. :)

    2. Understood you perfectly, Kara. (Both the post and this response.) Thanks for this in-depth and wonderful response.

      Reviewing has been helpful and taught me so many things. No matter how much I whine about drowning in books or being behind in reading them, I'll forever be grateful for what I've learned.

    3. Reviewing books has absolutely been a learning process for me, Rissi! I started on Goodreads and had no idea where to begin. Even until now, I still find things that I like about my reviews and things I want to change. But it's a fun ride and, like you, I'm ever so grateful for what I'm still learning. :)

  3. Pacing might have something to do with it. I just read a book I wasn't all that nuts about. Didn't really connect with the characters, and the story was a bit confusing. Why did I keep reading? Because the pacing was good.

    I also think we books we can connect to, so it's important that the author write emotional stories. Not angst filled stories, or tear jerkers, but stories where we feel what the characters feel. If we can make that connection, and understand where the character is coming from on an emotional level, that makes a big difference.

    Interesting post Kara!

    1. That's true, Giulia. I hadn't thought about the pacing. If the pacing is handled well, then it will keep you reading. That makes great sense.

      I agree completely! If I become emotionally involved, then I'm there through thick and thin until the very end. And the fascinating thing about that is the fact that if the writer is good enough, they can make you emotionally connect with a character that you wouldn't normally. Because it goes much farther than just having the character experience something similar to you. While that helps, it still doesn't work for the villains or other characters that may not be the stereotypical "good guy". And in some stories, those are the people we connect to the most. A writer who is able to do that is incredibly talented!

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! :)

  4. Hi, Kara! I wanted to stop by and say thanks for following my blog :)

    Oh, what an interesting topic! For a story I love, great writing + great plot + great characters + no nastiness = awesome. I don't think I've ever thought deeply enough about reading to come to any conclusion like this, but kudos for making me think!

    1. Thank you the follow back, Hannah! I think it will be fun to get to know you and talk books back and forth. :)

      Ha! You're very welcome. :D I don't normally think such deep thoughts myself, but for some reason it really struck me this week and I wanted to see it made sense to anyone else. So glad you stopped by and shared your thoughts! :)

  5. That was a great post and I often feel the story vs writing dilema. Sometimes I have found some truly gorgeous writing yet I'm unable to connect with the characters or really care about what's going on, and some other times, the writing isn't great but the concept and characters are enough to see you through, It's a very complex game :)

    1. You are so right, Alex. It's a very complex game. And it can change based on so many different things! So it's a good thing there are so many different writers out there. That way there's something for me to read on the days that I'm feeling particularly persnickety! ;D

  6. Actually, you can probably figure out what draws you to particular stories. I wrote a big post about it here, but so far, everyone I've discussed this with has been able to find a pattern that explains whether or not you'll love a particular book/movie/TV show, or whether it's just not for you.

    1. Just read your post, Hamlette, and you definitely make some great points. Now I'm going to have to think about it some more. Thanks! :)


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