1. Mikewritesfic
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    Mikewritesfic Senior Member

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    Being A Better Writer Or A Better Storyteller? Which Is More Essential For A Successful Novelist?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Mikewritesfic, Sep 27, 2013.

    And please don't say "Both!" :) Personally, I think being the better storyteller wins hand over fist. Steven King is a perfect example of this. He's a far better storyteller than he is a writer. On the other hand, somebody like Joyce Carol Oates is a good example of a great writer, but an average storyteller. Her strength is more in the way her story is written, not the story itself.
    What are your thoughts?
     
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  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    It depends on how you define success. If you want the money, go with being a better storyteller because the average person doesn't understand the difference between good and great writing and is buying books for pure entertainment. If you want the awards, go with being a better writer. The audience for writers like Oates, Lahiri, and Cormac McCarthy is relatively small, but they're the writers who win the prestigious awards. I may be generalizing a bit here, but I feel that what I'm saying is true for the most part.
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    to go down in history as a good writer, put writing quality first... if you only want to be known as a popular author, storytelling is most important...
     
  4. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I agree that if by success you mean popularity and financial success (i.e. lots of sales) storytelling wins hands-down.
     
  5. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, I agree -- if you're talking about financial commercial success, storytelling is the most important quality. I've seen some terrible, terrible writing in a lot of huge best-sellers.
     
  6. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I would consider myself successful if I wrote a classic - a novel that's still read and celebrated fifty years after I'm dead and gone. By that standard, I don't think Stephen King writes classics, and I think he'd agree with me; that's not the market he's in. Hemingway wrote classics. Conrad wrote classics. Thomas Wolfe wrote classics. I'd give up all King's millions, and his entire corpus of novels, if I could write a couple of novels like A Farewell To Arms and Look Homeward, Angel.

    I think, long term, the better writer wins over the better storyteller. Alistair MacLean was a ripping good storyteller, a bestseller in his time, and many of his novels were made into successful movies (The Guns of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare, Ice Station Zebra, etc.). MacLean died in 1987, and he's almost completely out of print now. My roommate wanted to read his stuff and had to buy used copies from Ebay because no new ones are available. Steinbeck defeated MacLean, Conrad defeated MacLean, Wolfe defeated MacLean, Nabokov defeated MacLean. MacLean may have sold more copies and made more money, but those other guys are still in print, still revered and studied, and MacLean is forgotten.

    The better writer ultimately wins.
     
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  7. randomme1
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    randomme1 Member

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    Like said above, its all about how you define success. I personally write just to tell stories, I am not planning on making a profit or becoming a writer that will be remembered decades from now. I also read just for the story, I know full well that my favorite author will be forgotten ten years or so after his story is finished.

    But as for monetary/glory success. Storytellers make more money, but the truly great "Writers" are the ones who secure the glory.
     
  8. CharlesPenn
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    CharlesPenn Member

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    It's got to be a better Storyteller because the story is king! - I've read a bunch of things that could do with work or a rewrite but were brilliant because of the story behind it!
     
  9. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    But you also become that writer that everyone has to study in school. Everybody hates them. ;)
     
  10. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    One thing to remember is that good writers aren't necessarily remembered after their deaths. Some win prestigious awards but then fade away into obscurity after they die. Others never achieve any type of fame or recognition (I remember my professor mentioned a few authors who were, according to him, on the same level as Joyce, Faulkner, et al. but who, for some reason, never got the recognition they deserved; they weren't that famous during their lifetimes, and they faded away into obscurity after dying.). Luck plays a pretty big role in determining who is remembered and who isn't.
     
  11. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    IMO, if we're talking being a good writer technically versus a good storyteller, then the storyteller is more important. Most people (and I'm going to note this does not mean other writers) are not going to remember the technical quality of the writing IF the story itself bores them to tears. I can't think of any of my favorite writers, spanning several genres, where I remember their technique better than I remember the story they told.
     
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  12. Dean Stride
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    Dean Stride Contributing Member

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    Luck may have played a big role before, but not in this day in age. Today, even crap writers can become famous with enough PR (I'm fiercely glaring at you, Stephenie Meyer). The internet is the strangest phenomena where everyone can become famous for absolutely anything with only minimal amount of luck and a maximum input of advertising effort.

    Look at that nitwit pewdiepie, for instance. People watch a guy play video games while spewing moronic commentary and cracking unfruitful jokes at best. And the guy is famous! If he can make it, so can a good, yet obscure author. All they need is a good audience-enticing strategy.
     
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2013
  13. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have no idea who "pewdiepie" is.
     
  14. Dean Stride
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    Dean Stride Contributing Member

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    Thank the Lord for that.
     
  15. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Marketing and PR aren't enough. There are plenty of good writers who aren't that famous. Part of it is politics. I've mentioned before that I think that the strained relationship between the US and several South American countries has affected the popularity of South American works here in the US. Several great South American writers have been neglected by US readers/academia for this reason. That's just bad luck and isn't something the writer can control.
     
  16. Dean Stride
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    Dean Stride Contributing Member

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    These cases are so rare, I'm tempted to completely disregard politics as an actual threat to a good writer's popularity. Unfortunately, I'll also have to disagree with you on your first point - marketing and PR are enough. Don't make me point at the most banal and overly-exemplified brand on the market, Justin Bieber(tm), to prove my point. Frankly, marketing and PR are all you need, given you can at least pretend you're not crap (not always necessary). More so, internet marketing is the most important part, so much in fact that it's an actual science now.

    You can even breach the boundaries set by politics via enough aggressive advertizement. The world is run by ads and corporations that profit from them; It's not Obama or Correa that you should be worried about, it's Google and Facebook.
     
  17. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    You're ignoring things like subject matter and genre (and even writing style to an extent). You can promote writers like Thomas Pynchon all you want; chances are that a lot of people still aren't going to read his books. His works are, if I may say so, too difficult for the average person.
     
  18. Dean Stride
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    Dean Stride Contributing Member

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    And you're ignoring the power of marketing. There is nothing in this world that carefully executed marketing can't sell - nothing - and by sell, I mean sell.

    It doesn't matter if people find them difficult, what matters is their popularity. These two are vastly different things. All you need is to create a controversy or an enticing event around them and people will buy the books irregardless of whether or not they can comprehend the contents of said book. It's all about memes, not content.
     
  19. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Hey, we agree on something! :D

    I could compare this to music: do you want to be Steve Vai/Joe Satriani/Rusty Cooley (aka some of the most technically proficient guitarists in history) or do you want to be The Beatles/The Rolling Stones? I would always choose the latter; people will remember great songs even if Lennon/Richards weren't/aren't technically that great.

    That is not to say that you should suck (unless you make that into art, like this one guy, Kurt Cobain); of course you have to hone your technique as well, but the song/story should come first, imho. How many Rusty Cooley originals can you folks name? How many Beatles songs can you name? Whose music do you like to listen to more? Whose songs stay in your head for years after you've heard them? That's what I thought.

    There are very rare exceptions to this rule, like Mozart and Jimi Hendrix, who were great song writers/composers as well as virtuoso musicians (at least in their time since nowadays Hendrix would be considered technically average at best as far as professional guitarists go and I'd bet the same would apply to Mozart had we YouTube videos of his performances).
    However, how many of us truly have what Mozart and Hendrix had? Especially in this day and age when even good amateurs eclipse them technically? Again, that doesn't mean technique isn't important, but I believe your technique should be good enough to tell your story well. If you develop technically beyond that, great, but as long as you're good enough, like Keith Richards, it's enough to tell a great story, and aren't writers, first and foremost, supposed to be story tellers instead of virtuosos only valued for their technical wankery à la Cooley?

    How many of you remember/have read The Lord of the Rings? How many of you have read The Lost Boy and remember it as well as LOTR? I'm sure there are people who'd answer the latter and could list all of Rusty Cooley's songs and hum all his solos, but I'd be willing to bet most people would choose the former simply because it's a great story written well enough.

    Since people, even professionals, tend to respect great songwriters over technically great musicians... I wonder, why is it the opposite when it comes to writing? Why is technique valued over the content, i.e. the art?
    Of course there are different circumstances: in music circles, if you're, say, a female guitarist, you usually get noticed early, but aren't taken seriously until you surpass most male guitarists technique-wise, or if you're, say, an EFL/ESL writer; then you essentially have to be technically more proficient than the average native writers to be taken seriously in writing circles, just like it is with female guitarists. Is this fair? Not really, but is it how the business works? Sure looks that way.
     
  20. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I still disagree. For example, you'd think that slapping the words "Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature" or "Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction" on the front cover would boost sales into the millions. But it doesn't. There's this article on Reuters that details how winning the Nobel Prize only boosts sales for certain authors. It depends on the writer's fame, what language he/she writes in, and even style (as I mentioned before). Some of the recent winners have only sold less than 100,000 copies of their books after winning.

    Also take a look at the Oprah Book Club selections. Books by authors like Faulkner never did as well as the memoirs and self-help books. While I agree that her book club boosts sales, how many of those participating are women? An overwhelming majority I would say. Some forms of marketing are more effective and only work on a certain demographic. That's just a fact of life. For me, saying that someone won the Nobel is enough to get my attention. For others, that may not make them want to buy the book at all because it's a genre they hate. That's perfectly fine, but going back to my original point, luck is important, regardless of how well or how much marketing is used.

    If you disagree, that's fine. We'll just have to agree to disagree.
     
  21. Dean Stride
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    Dean Stride Contributing Member

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    Yes, I suppose we will.

    Just as a side note, take a look at "The X Factor" to see exactly how you target different audiences with different tastes. There's more than one marketing trick in any given subset of life; Books are no exception. For example, if you find "Nobel Prize Winner" to be enough, others may find "Renowned Atheist" to be sufficient to grab their attention; for a completely separate demographic, an inspiring life story might be what gets them. You can employ different strategies aimed at different people for the same product. Just go and ask Simon, he knows best.

    Never look at anything in a linear fashion.
     
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  22. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think one can say absolutely that good marketing will sell anything - at least that it will make anything sell well or continue to sell. Crap is crap. Marketing may get people to try something but it can't keep them buying. Good marketing may sell the first book - but if the author fails, no marketing will save the next book.
     
  23. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You're comparing apples to oranges, I think. The composition vs. performance axes of music are not really analogous to the story vs. technique axes of writing. This is probably mostly on the performance side: people like Satriani, Vai, Malmsteen, etc. are notable not because they're playing music that is intrinsically difficult, but because they're playing it on the guitar, which is singularly unsuited for playing fast. A blazing Satriani or Malmsteen solo would be unremarkable if it were played by a keyboardist or a violinist; it's only amazing because it's played on a guitar. It's overcoming the limitations of the instrument, which is not something directly analogous to anything in writing.

    A more valid analogy, I think, would be comparing the music of the Beatles to that of, say, Justin Bieber. Bieber sells lots today - marketing crap, as Dean Stride points out - but you can't tell me his songs can even approach those of the Beatles, or of Paul Simon, or of Joni Mitchell, or of many other great songwriters. Comparing songwriting is more analogous to comparing literature, I think. Leave the musical performance out of it.

    Even then, the analogy is weak, because writers of stories and writers of songs are attempting to affect the audience in different ways. I find it easier to define a good song than a good story. A good story is far more bound up in the technique of its telling than a good song is. Maybe that's because it's a more complicated art. A song can be sold (in the emotional sense, not the commercial sense) on a soaring melody and a satisfying chord progression, along with a good rhyme and some pith in the lyrics. A story isn't really good unless it's told reasonably well - "the tale is in the telling," as they say. There are only seven basic plots (or whatever is your favorite number; it changes depending on which authority you're listening to), yet we have millions of novels, short stories, etc. Some - a very few - achieve greatness, while the vast majority will be forgotten. A run-of-the-mill story will be forgotten even if it has the same plot as a great story. What's the difference? Not just technique in the sense of correct use of grammar, appropriate metaphor, etc., but insight into the human condition (I can't believe I just typed that!), theme, seriousness of purpose - depth, to use a simple word. Those aren't performance elements, in the musical sense, but they are part of writing.
     
  24. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Depends. Take the old Tarzan - not the best writing and logic is out the window ( Tarzan teaches himself to read and write english but can't speak it? Where is his reference to connect words to things? ) but it's pulpy and action-packed. Also, it was a bestseller. But so were Lolita, The Great Gatsby, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Grapes of Wrath - all well written and great stories.If you want to be either or you can check out the best seller lists and see a split - the timeless books are usually the best written, but the books that capture a moment or mood in history are the pulpy storytellers i.e. Valley of the Dolls, Jaws, Fear of Flying, the Davinci Code.

    You can be a far superior writer in your genre - Kathe Koja ( better than ) Stephen King, Norma Fox Mazer ( better than ) Judy Blume, but you might never have the following. It's not necessarily a flaw of story telling or writing just a matter of wether or not your story captures the widest
    range of readers. If everyone is talking about controversial Blume what is a young girl going to reach for her or Mazer? And if King makes it into major magazines and newspaper articles and Koja is reduced to Fangoria - her fanbase is cut down to pure horror fans only. Success is a mixture of timing and luck. Quality lasts and unfortunately some of the really good stuff just becomes overpriced rarities.

    I think it's up to a writer to decide on what he's comfortable with putting out. Had Burroughs waited till he was polished maybe their would be no Tarzan or maybe it would be better written, who knows.
     
  25. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I hope the answer is 'story-teller'...
    In all seriousness, though, it might also depend on the genre. Perhaps technique is more appreciated in, say, general fiction, but in genres like SF/F and maybe erotica, the writing technique can be less refined but the works can still sell like crazy (HP, Twilight, 50 Shades... to a degree Da Vinci Code, maybe?).
     

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