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  1. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    A good story vs a story well told

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by w176, Oct 30, 2010.

    I find the difference between a good story and a story well told fascinating, as a do with most thing. (No matter what preferences you have to define either.)

    I think this is most apparent in real life when you both have people who been through something fascinating and tells about it with more of less skills for storytelling. And you have people who can spin anything no matter how trivial into a fantastic story.

    I wounder what how you think it applies to writing and if you can come up with any examples of writer you think belong in each end of the spectrum.

    And if it is a useful distinction to make. I think so, since telling a story really well and coming up with a good story is two different set of skills, and if you want to develop I think its useful to identify where the problem lies.
     
  2. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    In writing, how you tell it is really more important. No matter how epic the plot is, if it's told in a boring way or in a way that doesn't immerse the readers, it will be bad.
     
  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I agree. In fact, great story ideas are easy to come up with. Almost anyone can do it. But pulling it off - being an excellent writer and story-teller - not everyone can do that.
     
  4. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Some of the best stories are the ones that aren't amazingly well-told. Harry Potter, for example, is really good storytelling, but the writing is average. The Lord of the Rings is a great story again, but swamped in extra information, and lengthy phrasing, requiring actual mining in some parts to get to the gold. There's some stuff I've read that's been told very well, but in the end it leaves you blinking and thinking, "hang on, I don't think there was actually a story in there..." or else uses sparkling, impeccable language to cover up an average, common plot with little innovation apart from word choice or uncompelling characters.

    In the end, I find it much more worth struggling through writing for a good story, because I know, for example, that Lord of the Rings is worth it, and I have to read a lot of classics and modern books of renown for my course... Sometimes I won't get into them to begin with, and it's only when I reach the end that I realise I liked it for the story and not for how it was told. It's much less satisfying when you think you've found something good, but it only disappoints.
     
  5. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    I think anyone who's committed to lots and lots of writing, revising, etc can learn to be a really great writer even if they were a bad one before. I don't agree with statements like "either you're a good writer or you aren't" (like it's something you're born with). There are lots of techniques and literary devices you can learn how to apply in order to improve the way you write, and to improve things like writing with impact or with a certain tone. But, with that said, part of it is just the way you're wired -- either you're interested in writing seriously or you aren't.

    And Mel, to add on to your point -- I loved Harry Potter, even though he was a bit of a Gary Stu. But even though the plot of the story is about the witch/wizard stuff, it's also about an awkward teenage kid's coming of age. You don't have to be a magical to identify with Harry Potter. A lot of high fantasy books, though, aren't really this way; I find it a difficult genre because most of them aren't written in a way that can connect and make sense to regular people, and I think that's an important aspect to capture to be a successful writer.
     
  6. ojduffelworth
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    ojduffelworth Contributing Member

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    ‘If nobody speaks of remarkable things’ by Jon McGregor is a great example of a bland story told with hypnotic prose.
     
  7. TobiasJames
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    TobiasJames Contributing Member

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    Not strictly a book, but I'll always remember the TV series of "The Tribe" as an example of a great story that was told in an awful way. If someone were ever to adapt that concept into something more edgy, it would be a massive hit I'm sure.
     
  8. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it has to be a combination of the two. The story has to be compelling and told in a compelling way.
     
  9. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just to clarify, I did by not mean it as a either or thing. Most memorable books is both a great stories and well told. And a lot of bad books are neither. And some books are stronger on one scale then the other. Its like two independent scales, among many other scales.

    The movie Avatar, was a story well told, visually and storywise but the plot alone was terribly cliché without any redeeming qualities that could have saved it on its own. Imho.
     
  10. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Ideally, both are present.

    But I think good storytelling can rescue a mediocre story, whereas bad storytelling dooms a good story.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A really good writer can take a mediocre story and make it sparkle. Richard Fariña's Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me is not a really great story. It's just about a guy blowing his future in college through questionable decisions and a mocicum of bad luck. But it's a great piece of writing that's hard to put down.
     
  12. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well we all had people who isn't great speakers still have interesting stuff to say so i say that the message and the story to some degree can save the telling of it too.
     
  13. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Maybe, but you may not really want to sit and listen to them.
     
  14. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, I suppose it is possible that a really good story can survive bad writing. I'm not that likely to find out about it though, because if I start a story and the writing is just awful I don't read far enough into it to see if the story is any good :)

    But I agree that both are important aspects. Ideally, a writer has something worthwhile to say and is also good at saying it.
     
  15. TobiasJames
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    TobiasJames Contributing Member

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    Agreed. I read the first two chapters of 'Twilight' and then took it back to the library to swap it for something better written. I never found out if it was a good story or not. Millions of angst-ridden teenagers seem to think so...
     
  16. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Twilight wasn't that badly written. The story just wasn't for me.

    When I mention bad writing I mean REALLY bad :)
     
  17. Capt Bob
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    Capt Bob Senior Member

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    "Really Bad" only exists on graffiti-ed wall and Forums; And lookie!!, plenty of fans for both of them.

    I wouldn't like reading "A layman's guide to brain surgery" no matter how "WELL" written!--but that's just me.
     
  18. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I'm lost as to what the fascination is with the whole vampire thing.
     
  19. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, but put it this way - Twilight was well-written enough to induce an editor to give a completely unknown writer a $750,000 advance on a first novel. I think here's where we get into technical writing v. storytelling, and when I talk about good or bad writing I am usually referring to the latter. I can find technical problems with Twilight (overuse of adverbs, for example) that I find in a lot of published fiction. But as far as "good writing" goes in the sense of storytelling, Meyer obviously achieved that.

    Still isn't my kind of story, and even if the most brilliant writer on the planet wrote it, that wouldn't change.
     
  20. yogapoet74
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    yogapoet74 New Member

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    I would add one more distinction--there are folks who are really good verbal story tellers (the ones who weave something out of nothing) but are by no means "writers." My husband is the former, which is not a talent I possess, even though I'm the "writer" in the house!
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It wasn't the worst writing I've seen by any means (okay, I am actually talking about New Moon, not Twilight), but it suffered from a novice writer's common first person trap. To say she dwelt on the character's emotions and sensations is an understatement - she locked herself in and bolted the doors of sensory self-indulgent.

    That panders well to the adolescent fascination with angst and moping, but from a writing perspective, it was the stuff that gives first person writing it's poor reputation.

    Back on the thread topic, the story concept was fair, if you like that sort of thing, but the writing was unquestionably mediocre, even given its appeal to the target market.

    For that audience, it's good enough. If you're accustomed to In 'N Out Burgers, you will be very unsatisfied by McDonald's. But the golden arches are cheap eats, and good enough for the typical fast food junkie.
     
  22. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    Personally, I do sometimes overlook mediocre writing because I was fascinated by the story or have deep personal affinity with the story. But I appreciate a well written story more, it has more lasting impact on me. I have read many stories in this forum, some I enjoyed but forgot about it the next day because the writing was not good, but some I still remember because of the relatively good writing despite a weak story. Of course, it goes without saying that a combination of both the elements makes me drool like a puppy.
     
  23. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think the telling makes the story. I mean, a really good writer can find depth and power in the most banal of stories, and a lousy writer can't take even a story charged with drama and tragedy (for instance, the sinking of the Titanic) and make it worth reading.

    It's interesting to take one basic story and see what different writers do with it. For example: In a war, a small group of fighters is assigned the task of destroying a bridge to prevent the enemy from using it. Alistair MacLean told this story in Force 10 From Navarone, and Ernest Hemingway told it in For Whom The Bell Tolls. MacLean's novel is a fairly good war adventure story, and Hemingway's novel is a powerful masterpiece, one of the best war novels of the twentieth century. The primary difference is in the approaches these writers took. MacLean wrote his book about highly-skilled professional soldiers merely carrying out a mission, one of many they would undertake, and doing a workmanlike job of it. Hemingway, on the other hand, wrote about peasants and gypsies and very ordinary people forced by the war to become guerrillas, and the American demolition professional who has to organize them and prepare them to carry out their mission. Hemingway's characters are far deeper, and always seem in more danger because they're desperate and barely surviving, and the mission of the bridge is a life-changing thing for them. In MacLean's book, it's all in a day's work.

    Two approaches to the same material, resulting in novels of very different quality. It's all in what the writer brings to the material - in other words, the tale is in the telling.
     
  24. TobiasJames
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    TobiasJames Contributing Member

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    Yup, a relevant distinction to make. I'm a great verbal storyteller (the words of my teaching colleagues following lesson observations) and although I like to think of myself as a talented writer too, it doesn't come as naturally when I try to put ink to paper.

    In the context of this thread, I suppose you could say I can tell a story well, but I need to get to grips with putting together a "good story" to write down.
     
  25. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Huge vocabulary but nothing to say: Useless.
    Something to say but no words to express it: Useless.

    It's like arguing whether the right or the left leg is most important for running, when in reality you'd suck at running if you didn't have both (and let's ignore the amputee olympics for the sake of making a point).
     

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