Friday 24 April 2009

DISCUSSION: Is there a difference?

What often surprises me is that I'll read a novel and find myself engrossed, only to realise that, at the end, the writing was what I would consider 'flawed'. This raises some questions in my mind: is there a difference between story telling and writing a novel? If so, what is it? And which is more important: to write a good novel, or tell a great story?

E M Forster in his "Aspects of the Novel" talks about Sir Walter Scott as an author who 'has neither detachment nor passion' and, Forster wonders, if a writer is devoid of both how he can create characters who will move us deeply? He goes on to say that Scott's fame rests on his ability to tell a story; he 'had the primitive power of keeping the reader in suspense and playing on his curiosity.'

In today's world is the difference between being published versus being unpublished more to do with whether an author has the ability to tell a good story or whether he/she is able to write a good novel? And can (should) an author combine both story telling skills with the ability to write a good novel?

What do you think?


Weronika Janczuk said...

I think, in all honesty, it depends on the story told by the respective writer (or the quality of their writing). I definitely think that there are no set rules. A good example for me (and some may disagree with me) is the "Twilight" series from Stephenie Meyer. I don't think the writing is phenomenal in any way whatsoever, but for so many who read it the story is engrossing. You pose a very good question.

Thank you for sharing!

P.S. I recommend that you add a "Followers" link to your blog; it will make it easier for readers to keep in touch with your updates.

Justus M. Bowman said...

Like it or not, an engrossing story trumps well-written prose.

Nancy J. Parra said...

I think readers want a good story. What makes a good story is subjective-what makes good writing is objective. IMO, good writing is easier to accomplish because you can measure it.

All a writer can do is strive to accomplish both.

Ann Victor said...

WERONIKA - followers added!:) And yes (I confess!) I had the Twilight series in mind, and also the news that Dan Brown's follow up to the Da Vinci code has a 5 million first print run. Yikes.

JUSTUS - yes, I agree. But then I wonder how many of today's BIG NAMES in writing will be read in 400 years time. Shakespeare was great in his own time and his writing is still applicable to today's world (think of the Leonardo de Caprio and Clare Danes Romeo & Juliet, a brilliant example of Shakespeares relevance to our own age!). So have we today lost something by concentrating on a good story to the detriment of good writing?

NANCY - you've raised a vital point. "Good" writing is so subjective, but there are objective criteria to be met and the ideal would be a merging of both. (that, I think, is what makes a writer read beyond his time)

Weronika Janczuk said...

I agree with all. :)

& thanks for the add, Ann!

Lady Glamis said...

Ah, you're asking the age-old question of writing quality over story. I happen to believe that all writing comes in layers.

The first layer pulls us in. It's usually the story, and oftentimes superficial in nature (meaning that it's one layer deep). It's the other layers that make the ultimate difference to me. The deeper meanings of the story. The quality of the writing, etc. If a book has all of these layered together, then it's good to me. If not, then it's just an outer shell of "story" and I'm not very impressed.

I believe there is a difference, as you ask, but not so much as a "part" of the art, if that makes sense.

Great question!