I recently read a book that was so well-written I didn’t realize until halfway through that I didn’t much like the characters or the plot. The writing distracted me from the story. As I read, I kept saying to myself, “This is so well-written. I can’t believe what a good writer she is.” I continued to be amazed at the “fresh” writing, as editors call it. Not a cliché in the whole book. When I finished, I was left with a hollow feeling. Despite the stellar writing, the characters and plot were forgettable. When I read a book, I want a satisfying story and characters I like.
That got me to thinking. Are the story and the characters more important than the writing? Have you been so enthralled by the writing you didn’t notice the story? Or has the writing been so bad you couldn’t get into the story? As readers, what’s most important to you—the characters, the plot, the writing? All three?
We all know the BDSM trilogy that earned the author millions and millions of dollars. Some of you may have read the books. That author has admitted she’s not a good writer. Most who have read the books agree with her. Why did her books become a worldwide phenomenon? There are probably many answers to that. Let’s concentrate on the universally accepted bad writing and on the story. My college student niece couldn’t get through the first book because of the bad writing. Her mother, on the other hand, admits the book is badly written, but she loved the characters and the story and devoured all three books. She said she couldn’t stop reading. And isn’t that what all authors want—to write books that capture readers and make them keep turning the pages? I’m convinced most readers will forgive bad writing if they love the story and the characters. I’ve not read the aforementioned trilogy, don’t intend to, so this isn’t meant as a review or critique. I’m stating what others have said.
It’s really the story, isn’t it? We authors are all storytellers. We need to tell an entertaining story with unforgettable characters. The author of that trilogy touched a chord with so many readers. She wrote a story that kept them turning the pages. She wrote a hero, who, despite his many flaws, readers fell in love with. A compelling hero is a must for romance novels. Moral: Write a compelling hero and the readers will come.
As a reader, I’m character-driven. I’ve read books by some big name romance authors that left me cold because I didn’t like the characters. I’ve loved books by lesser-known writers that weren’t as well-written but had characters I liked and related to. However, I can’t read books that are badly written. My inner editor comes out and I end up editing as I read, totally ruining my reading enjoyment.
I’m not one who will read a book just because everyone is talking about it, which I think is one of the reasons the BDSM trilogy has had such astounding sales. I’ve been burned in the past when I’ve read popular books and found them wanting in so many ways. Harry Potter is the exception. I resisted reading the series because I thought they were strictly kids’ books. I finally broke down and read the first book, and I was hooked. Loved the whole series. Saw every movie. That’s a series that is well-written, has a gripping story, and wonderful characters.
As an author, I want to tell a good story, but I want anything I publish to be as well-written as I can get it. It’s a matter of pride. Yet, I know the bottom line is I have to tell a good story, period.
What about you? What’s important to you when you read a book?