Writing and Reading: a discussion. – thegrammariansreviews.com

Writing and Reading: a discussion.


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“Good” versus “Bad,” Making and Breaking Stories, and Workshops

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately – what makes and breaks a story, for me.  Between blogging, engaging in literature-based discussions in my classes, and going through the Hell known as the writers’ workshop, well, it’s easy for me to begin thinking and then talking about these kinds of things.

Just earlier tonight I had a discussion with a friend about the misconception writers and readers may have about “good” and “bad” stories and “good” and “bad” writing. Both my friend and I feel that there are clear distinctions between the two. For instance, just because I don’t like the Hunger Games, it doesn’t mean I think it’s a “bad” book, or “bad” writing. I don’t like the Hunger Games because I have issues with the characters, dialogue and some plot points. Meaning, I have issue with how the story is conveyed to me, not its literal make-up.

In a workshop setting, I think this sometimes becomes misconstrued, or a little too black-and-white. In my workshop experiences, if the other writers did not like a particular piece, they dubbed it “bad” writing, or equated it to not being able to write well. But I don’t think this is always the case. To be a writer, you must also be a storyteller. And I think sometimes the roles of storyteller and writer become blurred together, though I feel that they’re separate. I think you can have a great story to tell, but, at the same time, be unable to convey it well. Likewise, I think you can construct a very eloquent piece of work, but have it lacking in its actual content, or story. Because of this, I don’t think you can simply label a book “good” or “bad.” There are too many factors – most of them based upon opinion.

When it comes down to it, what makes and breaks a story for me are the characters. If there’s any disconnect between me and the characters in a story (presumably a majority of them, depending on how many are involved), I begin to lack the will to continue reading. I want the character to be a person to me – as real as they can be, whether they’re admirable or despicable. If they simply seem like a cookie cutter (without that being their intention), or uninteresting (again, without that being their intention), then I don’t see the point in me learning about them.

Going along with that, I also place importance on dialogue. The characters may appear to be as real as real can get, but if a disbelieving or ridiculous or lacking or cliched line of dialogue is tied to them, I start to become wary. They can’t just seem real; I need them to sound real as well. What they’re saying has to matter to me, on some level. If it doesn’t, then I know I’m not very emotionally invested, and possibly even interested, in the story.

Characters are what hold my attention – they’re what I cling to when I read. This unfortunately means they can both make or break it for me.

What about you? What makes or breaks a story for you? How do you view “good” versus “bad” writing? What have your workshop experiences been like?

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5 Responses to “Writing and Reading: a discussion.”

  1. I have to admit, as a writer myself, my first thing that I notice as a reader is plot, then the characters, then the writing, and then everything else that makes up a story. But a lot of that includes stuff like world building, which I am a big stickler for – if the world makes no sense, then I can’t get into the book as much as I want to. My mind gets caught up on the details instead of the story.

    I am not the biggest fan of The Hunger Games out there, but I still liked it. I think the writing was good, not great. The plot was good, not great (and I couldn’t help but come up with a list of other things that are like it). The characters… Good, not great, LOL. But I liked how it dragged me along and made me want to read more. I normally don’t read books in one night, but I read that book in one night. Suzanne Collins is a great storyteller, but the mechanics in my opinion could use more work.

    And about dialogue, I always have to say the dialogue out loud. On paper/computer screen it’s different than coming from your lips.

    Great post!

    • Alissa says:

      Exactly. I’m not its biggest fan, but it did keep me reading through all three books, which I think counts for something.

      I won’t necessarily read dialogue aloud, but I’ll repeat it again and again in my head to either try the different tones it could be given, or to see if it sounds realistic.

  2. […] “Good” versus “Bad” reading and writing […]

  3. We Heart YA says:

    You make some very good points. Writing versus storytelling is something the four of us discussed a lot. Each of us has different strengths along that spectrum. Our goal is always to help each other boost skills in the weaker area. And we like to read books that help us figure out how to do that.

    For example, Stephenie Meyer is a fantastic storyteller. Not a very good writer, but a fantastic STORYTELLER.

    On the flipside, Franny Billingsley writes like magic. But sometimes her story doesn’t move very well.

    Of course, even those are just opinions — and the four of us definitely do not always agree. (Case in point: Sarah adores CHIME by Franny Billingsley.)

    One author we do agree on is Laini Taylor. For us, she is absolutely pitch perfect in both her writing and her storytelling.

    As for good versus bad, or what “breaks” story for us… It’s a balancing act. Character, plot, prose, setting, dialogue — none of these things are enough in isolation, but it’s how they work together that determines whether or not a book is successful. We’re successful ENOUGH, as the case may be.

    • Alissa says:

      I’d have to agree in that Laini Taylor is “pitch perfect,” as you put it. At the same time, I realize personal writing styles affect the telling of a story – which is an entirely separate component to this discussion now. There are so many factors.

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