Story is key

Revision update: Got a bunch of good work in yesterday. Nothing yet today, but I plan to get to work after this post.

I found a great post on Larry Brooks’ today, Get Published, Part 6–Avoid the Common Pitfalls. Brooks offers up six problems that get a manuscript a quick rejection, but the best part of the post is what he points out is not on the list: “pedestrian writing.” As he says:

Bestsellers abound with writing that is nothing other than pedestrian. Even, on occasion, by unknown writers.

Brooks points out that what these bestsellers have in common is good storytelling.

Sure there are lots of books out there with beautiful writing and fascinating word choices, but if that was all they were, they wouldn’t be published. Because as readers, while we might appreciate a great turn of phrase, we are entertained by developed flawed characters, intruiging plots, conflict, danger, comedy, etc. It’s what the words say that keep us readers turning the page.

Case in point, let’s look at three of the most successful writers right now: Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer and J.K. Rowling. Now, confession, I’ve never read anything by Brown or Meyer, but from reviews I’ve read and what I’ve heard from friends who have read their work, these writers are not considered great writers. BUT, their books are so successful and they’ve earned such a huge group of fans because they can tell a great story. One friend of mine who read Twilight said that Meyer’s writing was ok, but she has an amazing way of drawing readers into her characters.

I have read Rowling’s books, devoured all the Harry Potter novels for multiple readings. I’ve heard some people say they’re written badly. Now, I disagree with this. I don’t think J.K. Rowling is a bad writer. Sure, the last book is better written than the first in the series, but I happen to like her fun and easy style. But I will admit that I don’t love the Harry Potter books because of the way they’re written; I love them because of the stories and the characters and the world Rowling built, filled with yummy food and fun.

Now, I’m not saying that as writers, we shouldn’t worry about how we write in favor of our storytelling skills. In today’s economy, agents and publishers have more reasons to say no to a book, and we must do everything we can to make sure they can’t say no. But what it does mean is that, it’s not enough to make every word count and have beautifully rhythmic sentences. If we want to get published — and especially if we want to be on the bestseller lists — we have to write complex, well drawn characters and a story that grabs a reader and won’t let go. That’s what Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer and J.K. Rowling have in common.

How’s your story coming?

Write On!


What do you think?