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Sunday, March 24, 2013

It's the Story, Silly, Or Is it?




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?








16 comments:

LizB said...

I enjoyed this post. It's what we all strive for, to write well and introduce memorable characters in a cracking good story. Badly written novels tend to put me off, because I'm struggling to get through them and there's better books to read. But if a writer can draw me in and get me to lose myself in the story, then there's a lot I'm prepared to forgive.
And we're all learning all the time; I know I've written lousy pieces on occasion, but with experience you learn to detect the dross pretty fast and you can do something about it.

Melissa Keir said...

I love to have characters that I fall in love with. I can overlook so many other things if I fall for the characters. :)

Tina Donahue said...

Actually, I think it's the characters first - they generate interest in the story. I've heard repeatedly that all the plots have already been told. Didn't Shakespeare say that way back when? :) To me, it's the interaction between the characters - the human interest - not the plot or story mechanics that hold a reader's attention. That said, poor writing will kill the best characterization. To me, poor writing is wooden dialogue and coincidence rather than complications in the plot.

Cara Marsi said...

Thanks, Liz, Melissa and Tina. You all make great points. I've heard too that there are only so many plots. Tina, you're right that it's the interaction between the characters that sets a story apart.

Jim Hartley said...

Yes, it's the story. I'm pretty much a "plot" person. This may be why I am not much of a romance fan ... in romances, nothing ever happens except for two characters falling in love, not much of a plot. I grew up on "Golden Age SF", cardboard characters but fantastic plots. And I've got to say that the "writing" comes in a poor third. I read that trilogy you refer to ... all three books ... and it was such a page-turner that I never even noticed any poor writing. Just depends on what you're used to, I guess.

Katalina Leon said...

I can overlook a few flaws in favor of a gripping plot twist and characters I love. Life is too short to put up with slick but empty books.
Great post Cara.

Nicole Morgan said...

What a fantastic post, Cara! I never thought about it much, but I can totally see how this could happen. Loving the characters we write is so important, but at least you realized it. :)

Aileen Fish said...

I've come to realize I need a bit of both. With an exciting plot and dull characters, I might read and read until I have to do something else, but realize later I have no desire to get back to the book. And I can love a character to death but if nothing is happening I want to strangle the book! I might skip ahead to find out whatever happens in some intriguing point that's been teased. Aha! Maybe that's it! There needs to be some mystery for me to uncover, whether it be why a character is the way he is, or how a couple is going to resolve their conflict, to keep me coming back to the book after I've set it down.

Sandy said...

If the characters make me route for them and the plot is intriguing enough I might not notice the bad writing. I used to judge for the Golden Heart contest and one time I had a badly written entry but I loved the characters and the story, so I gave a higher score than I would have. I explained to the writer why I gave the score I did, and I gave her lots of examples to help her in her writing, but I, also, encouraged her to keep writing.

Sue Fineman said...

A friend once told me she liked to mark passages in a book so she could come back and "savor the words." I had just written my first book and I knew even then that no one would want to "savor" my words. But I hope they'll remember my characters and their struggles. If my writing isn't as dramatic and polished as other authors, I'm okay with that.

Janice Seagraves said...

As a reader, I like character driven novels. I love the ones that I fall in love with and want to read all the books in the series, or at least all the books the author wrote.

As a writer, I try to write strong character driven stories.

Janice~

Cara Marsi said...

Thank you, Jim, for posting. You make some interesting points. Many readers loved that trilogy. She told a compelling story. I hope you'll read a few more romances and see they're not merely two people falling in love. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Thanks, Kat, and you're right. There's not enough time to spend on books that don't move us. Thanks, Nicole. I've realized through many books that I just love the characters. Thanks, Aileen, I agree. You did a little bit of everything. I remember books by their characters more than the plots. And sadly, I remember the really bad books I've read more than the good ones. Sandy, I heard Susan Wiggs give a talk once where she said she judged an entry for a contest. The writer made grammatical errors and some other errors, but Susan loved the story and gave the entry a high mark. Thank you, Sue. You write amazing stories. Thanks, Janice, you're like me in loving character-driven stories.

theresagrillo said...

I think the characters are the most important thing...I can forgo reality and a plot...as long as I'm in love with the characters!!! Great post.

Cara Marsi said...

Thanks, Tess. I feel the same way.

VICKI BATMAN, said...

Hi, sweetie! I want a hero to fall for. A girl for him to fall for. Some crazy stuff for them to go through to get there.

I just finished a highly acclaimed book and didn't like it at all. I never could visualize the settings.

Cara Marsi said...

Vicki, thank you for posting. I want the same things you want when I read a novel.

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