1. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Storytelling v. Writing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Steerpike, Aug 8, 2018.

    We’ve had this discussion before when it came to explaining the success of works a lot of writers don’t consider very good. I don’t think the results reflected on the list referenced in the article are surprising.

    From the article:

    “Another way of putting it is that when Americans read, we mostly read for story, not for style. We want to know what happens next, and not to be slowed down by writing that calls attention to itself. According to one familiar indictment of modern literature, today’s literary writers are unpopular precisely because they have lost interest in telling stories and become obsessed with technique. In the 20th century, this argument goes, literature became esoteric, self-regarding and difficult, losing both the storytelling power and the mass readership that writers like Balzac, Dickens and Twain had enjoyed.”

    I agree that storytelling is much more important than technical writing ability if the goal is sales/money. Of course, that doesn’t have to be everyone’s goal.

    https://t.co/JNSpJ6dZMy
     
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  2. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I love Balzac. Just saying.
     
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  3. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    I love literary fiction, generally, though a lot of it will never make these kinds of lists. I also love thrillers and genre fiction, which is mostly what I write. I've always found it interesting that there is something independent of writing ability that greatly impacts the ability of an author to connect with readership. I've called it "storytelling" in the past, which is one reason this article caught my attention.
     
  4. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    But aren't lists like the Mann Booker long list much more impressive and important? I think so. Anyone can tell a good story. Sure, we all have a few in us. But the writing is where it counts. Dismissing literary works or excluding them from lists (because anyone can come up with a list like this and ask the kind of people to get the desired results) is just another argument for highbrow v. lowbrow fiction. And these sort of things tend to dismiss highbrow literature.
     
  5. John-Wayne

    John-Wayne Madman with a pen in hand

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    He really should have put quotes around the examples of terrible literature writing when referencing those 2 books. Because I said in your opinion, which the article seems to back up driveway after that Americans don't care about prose.

    Personally, this is just seems like justification for never having formal literary education. And just developing on my own, which I still do to this day.

    It's also why I'm going the self-published route to.

    First book series I loved. Dune by Frank Herbert.
     
  6. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    I don't know that they're more important. They serve a different purpose. I don't agree that anyone can tell a good story. On the contrary, I think anyone can learn to write proficiently, but being able to tell a good story is a much harder skill. When I was reading submissions, one of the biggest problems I saw was with writers who wrote just fine but couldn't tell a story to save their lives. If you find someone who is an excellent stylist and can also tell a compelling story, you've really got something. On par, I think readers will accept poorer writing but great storytelling over exemplary writing (from a technical standpoint) and bad storytelling.

    I don't think this list was rigged to get a certain result. I think it's fairly reflective of what readers as a whole actually prefer. More readers want Dan Brown than David Foster Wallace, though I much prefer the latter. More readers want Twilight than American Pastoral. Acknowledging that isn't a value judgment or a question of high- versus low-brow literature, it's just a true statement of the marketplace, or so it seems to me.
     
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  7. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Which two?
     
  8. John-Wayne

    John-Wayne Madman with a pen in hand

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    Fifty Shades and another one, I don't know without looking at the article again
     
  9. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    The second books referenced was The DaVinci Code.
     
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  10. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Ah, ok, thanks. I agree that they're both terrible writing, though of course they both found wide audiences.
     
  11. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Member

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    You go to school. Teachers read you because they are paid to read you. They wouldn't if they were not.

    In school you must express what you have learned. Your appreciation is up to your ability to express the same knowledge everyone else shares.

    So... you get good numbers and valuation if you can't contribute anything new to shared cultural capital.

    And college, high schoo, university... Just like that. You do fine as long as your contribution is absolute zero.

    Doctorate thesis is the first time that you are expected to show any significant contribution of your own.

    Good story telling and good writing are about giving your audience something they wouldn't have without your text. It must be unique. It must have contribution. It must have an impact to readers / listeners / viewers life.

    There is huge difference between techniques that are good in school/university and techniques that are good in telling good stories well to voluntary audience.

    If your teacher told that your writing is good but your class mates were not interested about it.. then it was piece of s*it.

    School related writing manerism is something that should be left behind years before graduation.

    Wanna write?

    Kill your darlings! Start with the darlings your teacher selected for you!

    (Eyah... I know... A bit provocative... But still true!)
     
  12. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    Seems like there are intangibles that are hard to put a finger on when it comes to art.

    Maybe if you are pointing at something specific in a piece of writing and using it to say the piece is good, you are missing the mark.

    If all there was to "telling a good story" whatever that means, is producing words with a certain cadence and difficulty, or a certain kind of heroes journey, it would be a lot easier to figure out what to do.
     
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  13. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Yep. There isn't a formula for it, in the sense you're talking about. But I think writers should put a lot more time into considering what they want the ultimate emotional or cognitive effect of their story to be, and then backtracking from there in a deliberate fashion to produce a story intended to produce that effect, than worry about the technical aspects of the writing itself.
     
  14. 123456789

    123456789 Contributor Contributor

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    There is a formula for storytelling. It's called MRUs.
     
  15. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I wouldn't call that a formula for storytelling, I'd call it the shape of one type of block that you can build a story with.
     
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  16. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Yes. One type of block. Good for building a certain type of block houses. If you like block houses.

    If I can stretch the analogy that far.
     
  17. 123456789

    123456789 Contributor Contributor

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    It is actually literally a formula. You can tell an entire story using just MRUs if you wanted to.
     
  18. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    You could tell an entire story using only 25 letters of the alphabet, too, but that doesn't mean that using only 25 letters of the alphabet will make the story more engaging or successful than a "regular" story.
     
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  19. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    You can build an entire house using bricks. But the brick itself doesn't give you the floor plan for the house.
     
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  20. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Balzac is like really good, guys. You should check him out.
     
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  21. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    I don't think this is a question of who's read or not read Balzac, or any other author. I'm not seeing any sort of attack on the merits of literary fiction...
     
  22. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    I have one somewhere. Pere Goriot, I think. I haven't read it.
     
  23. 123456789

    123456789 Contributor Contributor

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    The MRU as a reaction unit is a brick, the MRU as a theory (maybe I should have said, MRU theory) explains how to use the bricks. The shape and size of your house, to continue with your analogy, is pretty arbitrary. It doesn't really matter if we're talking about Sam looking for his lost dog or Gina discovering an alien species. You can tell both stories almost entirely in terms of MRUs (if you wanted to) and you can connect those MRus using the theory behind it. So yes, it is a formula.
     
  24. 123456789

    123456789 Contributor Contributor

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    @BayView
    @ChickenFreak

    Guys, the brick and alphabet analogies are somewhat lacking. I get it. MRU is a unit. A letter is a unit. A brick is a unit. An MRU can be used to construct events. A letter can be used to construct words. A brick can be used to construct a house. Additionally, an MRU, is designed to emotionally connect the reader with the story.
     
  25. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Interestingly, in terms of the technical writing v. storytelling discussion, I saw a statement from a successful fantasy writer (sold something like 20 million books in the U.S. alone) stating that he dropped out of his English MA program because he realized that if he stayed in it he'd never be able to write the kind of books he liked to read (and that ultimately made him successful).

    Which isn't anything against MA programs, which I think are valuable. But I think the comment does tend to get at the idea that you have a certain "academic" view of writing that doesn't necessarily translate into what the majority of readers want, and vice versa. To me it is again a focus on storytelling that leads to greatest readership, and focus on other technical and/or artistic aspects of writing that lead to critical recognition. I say this with the understanding that these are all somewhat fuzzy and overlap to some degree.
     

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