Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Storytelling vs. Writing

Yesterday, I finished up a popular novel that I enjoyed for the storytelling, but realized early on that the writing wasn't stellar. All the traditional rules were broken, continuously. POV switches. Tense switches. Pages upon pages of backstory. Pages upon pages of dialogue. That sort of thing. But I still enjoyed the book because aside from the writerly things *we* writers notice, the author was a great storyteller.

I think there is a difference between good writing and good storytelling. I've read books where the writing was so beautiful that I had to re-read passages again and again. But by story end I had no idea what the story was about. Now, the true geniuses (like C.S. Lewis) are the ones who can do both.

How about you? Do you notice this difference and if so which do you prefer if you can only have one in a book -- captivating storytelling or beautiful writing?



  1. Storytelling over here--although beautiful writing is a great plus! I'm all about learning what makes a great story, too, so I'm always reading stories, studying the subject of storytelling, analyzing in order to make my stories better. I hope I'm getting better :) Your post ties into my ongoing theme...

  2. I think I'm more of a storyteller than a writer, but I'm working on the writing part. :)

  3. Kenda -- you brought up an interesting point. I tend to study novels I love for plot, character development, etc. Then I study it on a chapter, paragraph, sentence level to see trends. I have never studied the storytelling itself. Great idea!

    Sarah -- I'm more of a storyteller as well. I have a zillion ideas in my head, jumping to get out, but the writing doesn't come as easy. That may be why I end up with countless revisions/drafts. :)

  4. I know I much prefer story to writing. If the writing is beautiful but I'm not in love with the characters or dying to see what happens next, I'll put the book down after a few chapters. I think if the story is good enough, you get to a point where the writing is just the medium - you don't even notice it anymore.

    So...I hope I'm a storyteller. :)

  5. Ditto Amanda, almost word for word! It's kind of annoying now how I can't read without analyzing every little thing, but there have been a few books recently where I stopped noticing, and that's because I was sucked into the story so much. I think that is what I aspire to as a writer!

  6. I love beautiful writing, but I read books for the story. It's the story that compels me to read further, to want to keep reading without putting the book down. That said, if the writing isn't good, even a great story may not be able to hold my interest.

  7. Hi, MB

    I presented you with the Stylish Blogger Award, 'cause you're super duper AMAZING!

    If you have time, stop on by and celebrate! :D

  8. Amanda, Laura, and Andrea -- I agree with all of your comments. I think writing should read so natural that it becomes the medium, though that really is the mark of a great writer. It looks so easy, but smooth writing is tough!

    Tyson -- Thanks!!! I'm heading to your blog to see/comment. You made my day. :)

  9. I would go with the good story telling, at least for my middle school students. They very rarely care about beautiful writing, but if a book doesn't go anywhere, they are done.