When Does the Story Make up for the Writing?

When does the story make up for the writing, or vice versa?  This question comes to my mind sometimes when I am critiquing other writers.  Hopefully, published writing has passed this hurdle in the editing process (but not always).  One author may have an intriguing story line that really piques my interest, but the writing is hard to take.  Maybe another author has good, technically correct, writing skills, but the story is not catching my interest.   I think it’s better to start with a good story.  Writing skills can be taught, but storytelling is harder.  Some people are natural storytellers and just need to get the writing part down.  I assume it is easier to learn to write more effectively.

When reading, I prefer the good story over the writing skills, but only if the writing is not to the point where it distracts from the story too much.  I think that point is different for each person, and probably writers notice more than your average reader.  It’s hard for me to get into a story if I notice technical writing issues.  I find that I have become picky about what I read.

I know the answer I’ll get if I let the writer know my issue:  “It’s my style.”  I can see that to a degree, but style only comes into play if you know the rules and choose to break them for a particular effect.  Not knowing is not a style.  Again, this question comes up when critiquing other writers.  Sometimes it’s hard trying to explain why a section of prose doesn’t work.

Another answer I’ve heard is:  “You’re not in my target audience.”  I agree with this, to an extent.  Some audiences may be more forgiving on the writing side if your story is good, but as an author, why wouldn’t you strive to write the best story you can?  Of course, different genres have different standards and a writer needs to recognize this. 

So I guess my conclusion is that you need both good storytelling and good writing.  Recognize, maybe through the help of others, where you’re weak and strive to improve in that area.  Again, if I absolutely had to choose, I would rather read a good story, flaws and all.   


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