Craft vs. Story (in fiction)

Yesterday we had some discussion in the blog comments about craft, or writing technique, vs. having a great story. Obviously, the formula for a good book includes both.

Craft refers to all the mechanics of fiction: plot, characterization, dialogue, pacing, flow, scene-crafting, dramatic structure, point-of-view, etc.

Story refers to the page-turning factor: how compelling is your story, how unique or original, does it connect with the reader, is there that certain spark that makes it jump off the page? Is it sufficiently suspenseful or romantic? Is the author’s voice strong and distinct? It’s much harder to quantify than craft, and harder to teach.

Of course, the two elements are intertwined, but it’s helpful to artificially separate them, in order to understand why a book is either working—or not.

Lately I’ve noticed amongst my stacks of rejected queries an increasing number of projects that show strong technique, but no originality or heart. In a way, this is good because it shows that writers are paying attention to their craft. They’re taking the time and making the effort to learn to write, which is fantastic.

But it’s heartbreaking to me at the same time. I hate that lifeless feeling of a boring (or derivative or unoriginal) story, perfectly executed. I’ve written about this before… but I get the feeling many people are so saturated with media (books, TV, movies) that they are writing, not from life but from their perception of life as shown in media, including other books. They’re writing stories I’ve seen and heard a hundred times before.

In fact, just this week I read some sample chapters from a newbie writer, and I was impressed with the technical excellence. Nice dialogue, perfect POVs, showing not telling… the craft elements were all there. But the story itself involved a hackneyed plot, a totally uninteresting protagonist, and major predictability all the way through. It felt like it was written by a computer program, and it made me sad. I am not sure how to teach someone to not only learn the craft, but to also write from their heart. Write with authenticity, write from the depths of personal experience.

As aspiring authors, we need to pay attention to both aspects: craft and story. I think some writers find craft easier, and others find story comes more naturally. It’s up to you to understand where you stand as a writer, where your strengths and weaknesses are, and make the effort to keep working on both sides of the equation.

And when you read published books that don’t seem to “follow the rules” of craft that you’ve worked so hard to learn, try to determine if maybe that book got published because of the story, rather than technical perfection. (Or it might just be that the author has established a loyal following that enjoys their particular style of storytelling.)

Here’s a truth: If your storytelling is powerful enough, readers will forgive an awful lot of flaws in technique… and so will agents and editors. On the other hand, all the perfect “craft” in the world can’t make an unimaginative book shine.

If editors and agents are looking at your samples and immediately criticizing your craft, be aware this means they aren’t able to see a fabulous story in there. Either it doesn’t exist to begin with, or it’s camouflaged by your lack of expertise in fiction technique.

So writers, speak up. Where do you stand? Which is harder for you? How do you approach both sides of this craft/story equation?

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!

44 Comments

  1. Terri Tiffany on March 30, 2009 at 5:20 PM

    >This is my problem. I could be that person who has worked on craft but lacks the idea for that great plot. How do I get there? thanks for this!



  2. Pam Halter on July 12, 2008 at 7:13 AM

    >Becky, I agree with you … I was pointing out that, most of the time, if the story is fantastic, the general public will not care about the craft.

    Of course, if the story is great and the craft terrible, readers will be uncomfortable without knowing why. I suppose balance is the key.

    This was a great topic!



  3. Jesterhawk on July 11, 2008 at 8:48 PM

    >Personally, I can write a great story and I am not just boasting. I have had many people (and not all friends) read my stories and tell me that they were all page turners with one exception, my craft. Writing from a technical side has never been my strong suit, but I am working on it. So, I struggle a lot with trying to make sure that the story is written well because while I agree that no matter how good the craft is if the story is not good then you will go no where. On the other hand, if you have the most fantastic story on the planet, but your technique is just horrid (which I have issue saying how horrid could it be if you at least convey your story, but that is another rant) then you will get passed over by many.

    Anyway, just my thoughts.



  4. Timothy Fish on July 11, 2008 at 8:18 PM

    >I watched the Pink Panther DVD this afternoon. The director, Shawn Levy, talks about a deleted scene in which Kevin Kline is fitted with suit. Because the scene has been deleted, Kline is shown wearing a suit with odd looking chalk marks on it without explanation. Even though movie audiences usually notice everything, Levy says that no one mentioned the chalk marks. He then says that it goes to show that an audience will let you by with anything as long as they are engrossed in the story.

    Rebecca asked, “But aren’t there some stories that transcend genre and are interesting even for readers wading into foreign waters?” Rather than saying that some stories transcend genre, I am convinced that all stories transcend genre. Consider the books Try Dying by James Scott Bell, The Shack by William P. Young and Demon by Tosca Lee. On the surface, they seem to be dissimilar books from different genres, but they are essentially the same story. In each, something bad happens and the protagonist spends the rest of the book trying to figure out why. Coincidently, it also happens to be the same story as The Pink Panther.



  5. Christine Carey on July 11, 2008 at 5:08 PM

    >I think I’m stronger on story, but I’m working on craft! =)



  6. Rebecca LuElla Miller on July 11, 2008 at 3:04 PM

    >While I agree, Pam, I think there are things that keep a reader from the story. One of those is wooden characters. Another is confusing descriptions or confounding motivations or excessive wordiness (with many redundancies – LOL).

    In other words, the craft things are there to help the writer get the story across. When we adhere to them as if they are the point, that’s when we lose our voices and write bland prose, I think.

    Rachelle, I’m stunned. I thought what was interesting just was! I’m only half joking. I know, of course, that some people will never be interested in a techno thriller. They don’t find techno anything interesting. But aren’t there some stories that transcend genre and are interesting even for readers wading into foreign waters?

    Nevertheless, I can see why agents wouldn’t want to be the one to declare a story boring.

    Becky



  7. Pam Halter on July 11, 2008 at 2:08 PM

    >Marcie said: “I wrote my first book without having read a single book on craft or having joined a single writing group.”

    So did I … and got it published! But I’ve learned a ton since then and while that’s good, I think the story is what matters. The general public doesn’t care about POV or dangling participles. They only know if they like the characters, are engrossed in the plot and are pleased with the ending.



  8. Marla Taviano on July 10, 2008 at 8:39 PM

    >Totally unrelated comment. I know I’ve told you this before, but I’m always telling aspiring writers (and anyone else who will listen) about your blog.

    It is so great.

    My blog readers keep asking me for links to my favorite blogs, and I wrote a little blurb about you just now.

    http://www.xanga.com/mtaviano

    I really appreciate you, Rachelle!



  9. Kim Kasch on July 10, 2008 at 8:36 PM

    >I read perfectly crafted text all day at work – but they have to pay me to do it.

    With me, it’s story all the way.



  10. Eric Dabbs on July 10, 2008 at 6:32 PM

    >About craft, one of the things I’ve toiled over was the use of -ly words. One agent circled everyone in some of my earlier sample chapters. He said they slow the reader down. I’ve also read books where editors say it is the result of a lazy writer.
    After that, I (promptly) removed each one. Then I worked with an editor who added some during some of his edits. I asked him about it. He said those people only know how to edit, they know nothing about writing a book.
    Since then, I do use them. I try to be careful not to use too many. Balance is probably the key. So I usually remove unnessary adverbs and adjectives during the editing process.
    But one thing I know. Sometimes you just plain out need an adjective. And dog-gone-it(only kidding – no real anger here), I’m going to use one when I need it. I’ve picked up plenty of well known books and found several -ly words on the first page.
    But I think the biggest point is, you have to balance and adjust the craft to promote the story. I try to follow the rules such as POV, etc., etc., when I can. If it comprimises the story, I’m breaking them -every once in a while at least. That is unless an agent or publisher would like me to remove them in order to get my book published. In that case, I’m canning them. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. No rant intended.



  11. Lizzie Ann on July 10, 2008 at 5:55 PM

    >I’m definitely a story kind of gal. Craft is harder for me, though I’ve learned it’s not as hard to apply to my writing as I used to think. It just takes a more conscious effort.

    When I first started writing, I was clueless about craft, but the feedback I received on my stories was always positive. I studied the craft of writing, and a lot of what I learned must have soaked in because I don’t have nearly as much revising to do on recent manuscripts as I did in the beginning. I still focus on getting the story down first then deal with the technical stuff later. I learned the hard way that if I worry about the craft of writing while I write a first draft, my writing comes to a complete standstill and I can’t write a word.

    I write from my heart. If I write something that’s technically perfect (haha) but I’m apathetic about the story, I feel like I’ve let myself down. I’d much rather write a story that I’m passionate about and spend the next six months fixing all the technical stuff I ignored during the first draft.



  12. Marcie Gribbin on July 10, 2008 at 4:15 PM

    >Definitely (see my post above).

    Aargh! I dream of the day blogger will let us edit. Or the day my fingers don’t move faster than my brain. Whatever.



  13. Rachelle on July 10, 2008 at 3:45 PM

    >Becky,
    The problem with telling someone their story is boring is that I could be wrong. What’s boring to me might be spellbinding to another! So I’m careful with my critiques.



  14. Rebecca LuElla Miller on July 10, 2008 at 3:33 PM

    >I do think “craft” can sanitize our writing, essentially eliminating our unique voice.

    When I started writing, I was all about story. Then I started learning more about fiction, and I became all about craft. Now I think I’ve come back to some sort of balance.

    I don’t know as I could pinpoint one part or the other being the hardest. I don’t feel like I’m really ready to write until I have the story in hand. Not all the details worked out, but the general where-we’re-going stuff.

    I couldn’t help but think how great it would be for rejection letters to nicely tell me if my story is boring. 😉 I think all of us probably think we have an interesting, fresh, new story. The thing is, we don’t see the dozens of similar ones that cross an agent or editor’s desk. We may not have a clue we’re writing that same old story yet again. I for one am writing what I love to read. Are twenty-five other writers telling my same story? I don’t know.

    Becky



  15. Jackie Colburn on July 10, 2008 at 2:28 PM

    >When I realized that I am a plot-driven writer and not character-driven, my eyes opened dramatically. Now, the first draft can be plot and the major energy is during edits with characters and the heart issue I want to weave throughout the story.

    Having said that, there is a first thing first for me–I find that if I am in God’s Word before I hit a key, the flow from the heart to the page is much more an extension of who I am.



  16. Kat on July 10, 2008 at 2:15 PM

    >Karla, how depressing…did you have to write obituaries too?

    (That’s how I got my start in writing, actually. I’ve written more than 5,000 obits.)

    As far as craft vs. story…My last story wrote itself. I find craft much more difficult, especially trying to separate writing news stories and writing fiction.



  17. Marcie Gribbin on July 10, 2008 at 2:11 PM

    >Thanks for clarifying, Karla! I DEFINATELY did not take that class. But it would have been helpful for all those suspense or thriller writers!

    Now back to your regularly scheduled program…



  18. Karla Akins on July 10, 2008 at 1:41 PM

    >Language Arts in high school was divided into 4 nine week segments. You could choose all kinds of classes I guess based on a theme. One of the themes was Death, and for the life of me, I really can’t remember the others. I remember writing about a horse in another class so maybe it was animals or something. I’m not sure.

    Anyway, everything we wrote about in that Death class was to do with death and everything we read had to do with death — poems, stories, books. We even had to go to a mortuary and experience what it felt like to lie in a coffin/casket. I didn’t do it, but a lot of kids did. And we listened to music about death, too.

    And we wonder why there were so many drugs in the 70’s? LOL. (Well, at least where I lived there were! Waving to Haysville/Wichita, Kansas!)



  19. Marcie Gribbin on July 10, 2008 at 12:49 PM

    >Okay, Karla, my dear. You got me. What’s “Death Education”? I didn’t take that class 😉

    How to die? Or how to kill grammar? How to kill good literature? Sounds interesting.

    Oh, wait, maybe I did take it. On the first day of college in my first college lit course (secular, liberal university) my prof announced, “most of you will be slinging burgers ten years from now. You might as well get up and leave this class now.” A few left! If that’s death education, then, yep, I took it.



  20. Karla Akins on July 10, 2008 at 12:31 PM

    >This post was reassuring to me. I grew up during the 60’s and 70’s and in a school where they experimented with our language classes. Instead of English Grammar we did units on “Death Education” or other such things. No, really, we did. We did a lot of creative writing but learned very little about grammar.

    Story telling is much easier for me than craft, but I am trying to learn everything I can. I have always been a “write from the heart” kind of gal. If only I didn’t dangle all those participles. . .



  21. Catherine West on July 10, 2008 at 12:03 PM

    >Story has always come naturally for me. It has only been over the last few years that I’ve learned the craft of telling it properly.
    I believe one can overdo the craft aspect and this can sometimes get in the way of the story, so I’m trying to find the right balance for me.
    It’s a day by day process, but as Mary says, it does get easier over time. I still have many moments where I’m second guessing myself and thinking I’ve got it all wrong, so I’m not there yet.
    In a first draft I do allow myself the freedom to write before the editing kicks in, although I’m finding this harder to do now…which I suppose could be considered a good thing.
    I believe we must write from the heart, with a bit of common sense thrown in to make the thing readable.



  22. natalie on July 10, 2008 at 11:53 AM

    >A few weeks ago my brother and I were watching Coldplay sing Viva La Vida on the MTV movie awards. I said I wish I could write like Chris Martin makes music. I don’t mean I want to dance around the room or bounce up and down while I try to type (unless appropriate :). But what he does is incredible to me: it isn’t effortless but it is so beautiful. Nothing feels manufactured. Every song seems to come from a raw place in his heart. I have such a strong emotional response to that band’s music. I’m not picking apart the structure or lyrics. I’m not looking at it with the eyes of a critic. It just makes me feel alive. The dork within would phrase it like this: I don’t just hear it; I feel it.

    I think the best books are that way for me too. The structure may be excellent but I don’t even notice it. I’m just happily lost in an amazing story. I just finished a novel called The Confessions of Max Tivoli – it was FULL of heart. Great plot. Great writing. But it went even deeper than fine craft and got caught in my heart. I love books like that.



  23. Creative A on July 10, 2008 at 11:33 AM

    >Oops. I meant to say “perception” of life, not “perfection.”



  24. Creative A on July 10, 2008 at 11:30 AM

    >Hey Rachelle 🙂

    The bit you said about a story written not from someone’s perfection of life, instead of actually writing from life. This is something I struggle with. Whenever I try to imagine my characters in real life, in the world that is, I never can. They don’t fit there. However, I can imagine all sorts of things about them in the world of the story.

    It bothers me. I wonder, does it mean I’ve created such an in-depth world that trying to “normalize” my characters is impossible; or have I sensationalized their world so much that it doesn’t fit with real life?

    Back back to your real question: I sort of think writing is like falling in love. Story is the part where you lay awake in bed unable to stop thinking of the person; while craft is like picking out which flowers to buy them, how to compose a love letter. It’s easy falling in love for me. Then once I get to the craft part, I get so caught up in making it perfect that I forget who I’m in love with. So to speak. Very broad metaphor; sorry.



  25. Lea Ann on July 10, 2008 at 10:50 AM

    >John Grisham switches POV all the time and the English teacher in me wants to red-ink it–but the reader in me can’t put the book down long enough to correct him!

    I heard it said once that Grisham is not that great a writer, but he’s a master at storytelling. Then there are others whose story isn’t all that thrilling, but the way they string the words together is a joy to read. I think you can be strong in either area and still have a successful book.

    Story is more difficult for me, because it can’t be learned as readily. I took a class with Stephen James a couple of months ago and something he said struck me, especially as I write suspense, as he does. He said that as he writes, if he’s not suprised at what his characters say and do, then the reader won’t be either. If he can see the next thing coming, then readers don’t need to stick around for it. They’ve already guessed it.

    As I’m integrating that idea in my writing, I’m noticing the story aspect blooming with twists and subplots I never considered before.



  26. Nicole on July 10, 2008 at 10:20 AM

    >”I am not sure how to teach someone to not only learn the craft, but to also write from their heart. Write with authenticity, write from the depths of personal experience.”

    I don’t know that this is teachable. Craft is certainly teachable–it’s a mechanics thing. Almost “scientific”. But the craft itself, as you pointed out, by definition lacks emotional substance, the ability to entice, the featured pathos of character. I think this where the “gift” or “talent” is inspired and given by God.

    I don’t care about POV switches, adjectives, adverbs, etc. either amidst a good story and if they infiltrate an interesting voice. The stories which touch people for whatever purpose–whether for pure entertainment or to change their lives in some way–are never new (as Timothy pointed out), but they resonate with us because of some subjective uniqueness captured by an inspired author, whether he/she is good technically or not.



  27. Kate H on July 10, 2008 at 10:20 AM

    >The biggest things that turn me on to a book are the language–which is actually voice more than craft–and the characters. A disappointing story can ruin a book for me, but it isn’t usually a compelling story that makes me get into a book.

    Rachelle, I think you omitted one possibility of how a book can work even though it breaks the “rules”: The truly greats break the rules all the time. They transcend them. They wrote not knowing that such rules exist. As Somerset Maugham said, “There are three rules of great writing . . . Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

    For me personally, story is more difficult. I’ve been a lover of words all my life, and words flow pretty effortlessly once I know what I want to say. But I have to constantly remind myself to introduce external conflict, for instance. My characters have plenty of internal conflict, but I tend to be too nice to them and not let them get into enough trouble.

    Also, since I’ve read mostly classics for most of my life, I’m still catching up on what has been done to death in contemporary fiction and what hasn’t. Rachelle, I second the request for a summary of predictable plots!



  28. Kristin Laughtin on July 10, 2008 at 10:14 AM

    >Story is a bit harder for me. I can think of lots of interesting ideas, but only write/plan to write a few of them because it can be difficult to flesh out an entire story that’s original and compelling and hasn’t been done before. Craft can be taught, but story is something you have to learn yourself. Even recycled or derivative plots can be made great if you can bring something unique to the story, but a recycled plot that’s well-written is still just a recycled plot.



  29. Ulysses on July 10, 2008 at 9:44 AM

    >I think the story part is the hardest.

    There are books and courses on craft that can elevate incoherence into something close to readable. Anyone willing to study and practice can learn to write well.

    Unfortunately, there are no books on how to be original or compelling. You can read and study and practice and struggle and you’ll never really know whether your work is “good.” You’ll believe it is, but you won’t know. The best you can hope for is, I think, “good enough, original enough, compelling enough.”

    Art. It’s subjective. I hate that.



  30. Marcie Gribbin on July 10, 2008 at 9:41 AM

    >I wrote my first book without having read a single book on craft or having joined a single writing group. Looking back on that one now, I’m suprised at how I naturally “got” some of the elements of craft- BUT TOTALLY STUNK at others (like backstory- holy moley-(am I allowed to say that?)

    I’m really grateful that the writing community is becoming freer at imparting writing wisdom about craft. (Or maybe this makes your job more difficult, Rachelle? Because if more and more people are learning craft, doesn’t that make you have to read more of the submission to find out if the STORY is good enough?)

    Can STORY be learned? I guess so, because there are classes on plot, which is the backbone of story, but if you follow those formulas, you will be a little predictable. I like formulas, I guess. They do help you keep on track and not go down long and pointless roads. But how do you avoid being predictable if you follow formulas? I’m really working hard on that with this WIP (my fourth, sort of). I’m trying to be unpredictable-page-turning while following an established formula. Oy Ve! Don’t let anybody tell ya writing is for sissies (or lazies)!

    OH, and nice visual, Mary, vomiting words! Especially after the night I had with a sick son…



  31. Camille Cannon (Eide) on July 10, 2008 at 9:39 AM

    >Ditto Anonymous 6:08 on a couple points.

    I am without a doubt much stronger at word craft than story. I discovered this soon after delving into writing fiction. I can see the natural storyteller in some folks – I might even venture to guess the storytellers are more often the SOTP types, while us PLOT-bots may fall more into the craft camp. I could be wrong.

    Discovering our weaknesses and strengths and applying ourselves to improve in areas we lack is excellent advice. It’s also grace-building for us, if we’re not too self-absorbed, because this should also allow us to appreciate the strengths and forgive the weaknesses in others’ writing.

    Good grief, the minute I look down on someone for head-hopping or not varying sentence length is probably the same minute someone comes along and says my story is hackneyed, uninteresting and predicatble.



  32. Timothy Fish on July 10, 2008 at 9:17 AM

    >On one hand, we expect to see the same story over and over again. Blake Snyder says there are ten plots that we keep retelling. Most Christian fiction falls within two or three of his ten plots.

    As a reader, it is all about a good story. I couldn’t care less if a writer stays within the same POV or uses the right number of adjectives. I have one cardinal rule for authors, “Don’t Bore Me!” Since I try to write what I want to read, my focus is on the story, but craft has its place.

    I believe things like “pageturnability” and pacing can be defined in terms of technique, like many other things, but an author must bring creativity to the table. If we look at a murder mystery, the murder takes place at about the same place in every book. The final resolution takes place in about the same place in every book. The main character spends about the same amount of time searching for clues in every book. The author’s creativity comes into play in how the murder was committed, in why each of the players couldn’t have done it, in the red herring and many other things. But if the author has all of the characters kill one character while they are on a train, we are left thinking that we have seen this story before.



  33. Inspire on July 10, 2008 at 9:06 AM

    >feel the same way as Mary.

    Rachelle said in her blog,
    ‘And when you read published books that don’t seem to “follow the rules” of craft that you’ve worked so hard to learn, try to determine if maybe that book got published because of the story, rather than technical perfection.’

    At my last family reunion, my cousin Nora Roberts and I were discussing the subject of writing rules. She gave me some advice that energized me. She told me not to fret so much over technique, that a book could be perfect technically but lack substance. She said, publishers are looking for a good story. Make that your main focus.



  34. Mary DeMuth on July 10, 2008 at 8:42 AM

    >Craft comes easier to me now that I’ve spent a lot of time trying to refine it. I’m heading in more creative directions with craft these days, which means I deviate a bit now.

    Story usually comes naturally, but I’m learning that the very gift of getting a story on the page is only the initial part. I can vomit the words, but editing them into cohesion and art takes me much more energy.



  35. Eric Dabbs on July 10, 2008 at 7:43 AM

    >I’m not saying I’m there yet when it comes to writing in terms of my craft.
    But. I do think if you learn how to work the crafting aspect of writing, then it can become second nature, not interrupting your story at all, but actually making it better the first time around. Kind of like when a martial artist learns his moves so well that it becomes in grained in his reflexes.
    As far as grammar is concerned, I’m soooo glad I have Microsoft Word, catches all mispelled words, bad sentences, etc. It also has a dictionary, if you have any questions about a word you’re using.
    However, on your first draft, your story should come first. Also, to me, the pacing and dialogue are part of the story when I tell it. So sometimes it’s a little difficult to draw the line between the two. Although, I know there is a line there.
    Perfection can come after you’ve completed your first draft. Kind of like adding muscle, skin and hair to a skeleton.
    This is an interesting topic today. Craft vs. story. You need both, but I think its clear the story has to be there, then perfection can come.



  36. Yvonne on July 10, 2008 at 7:14 AM

    >Yes, a book is both, isn’t it?

    As a reader, I think the story is the most important, but if the grammar is awful, then it turns me off. So there is a balance.

    As a writer, if I focus on the craft, my voice (story)is lost. I love English grammar and have taught it, so it’s not a problem. (although everyone has their weaknesses…and pet peeves)

    I think as a writer, I focus on the characters when I write. I put myself in their situation and write about what they feel and how they think and act.

    When a reader can relate to the character, it draws them into the story. He wants to know how the character will conquer in the end.
    If the writer can do this, then the story will be strong.



  37. Anonymous on July 10, 2008 at 7:08 AM

    >Tough stuff fiction. Stray too far from story structure and you have a rambling mess. Stick too closely and you could be predictable.

    I try to apply solid craft to proven story structure for the most part, struggling with both at times. However, where I heard my writer voice come through stong in the heightened moments of conflict/tension, I left it untouched, even if it broke “rules”. I do believe you can edit your voice out of your work, which perhaps in addition to predictable plots, is where the computer-generated feeling originates.

    Am I way off base Rachelle?

    Oh, and if you ever want to give an update on hackneyed plots in Christian fiction, I know many of us would benefit. What are you seeing a lot of these days? Or perhaps you’d rather not say.

    Thanks as always for your amazing insights and all you do to guide writers through this journey.



  38. Anonymous on July 10, 2008 at 6:58 AM

    >Thanks for the heads up. Makes me feel a lot better. That does make good ethical sense to do it the way you just described.
    Now I can know that I still have a chance and can take my WIP (sequel) with me to work and not whimper while I write.



  39. Kathleen on July 10, 2008 at 6:56 AM

    >In all honesty, I’m not sure which is more difficult for me. My instinct is to say story is harder. The first draft of my story, I wrote for the love of it… no knowledge or worrying about anything. In fact, it wasn’t until I finished it that I realized that I was writing!

    Since then, and since immersing myself in this world of novel-writing, I’ve learned so much, both about craft and about story-telling. So how to know which comes more naturally?

    My initial response is to say that craft is easier. My mother was an English major and a writer, and I know I received a lot from her… both inherited and taught. The things that I’m finding I have to work on are things like introducing enough conflict, making sure my characters have a character arc, etc. Are those storytelling, or craft? I know I write from my heart… I honestly don’t know how to do otherwise. I can’t get the words on the page unless they’re alive and breathing inside of me.

    But that hasn’t necessarily helped me come up with a plot that’s new or exciting. It’s got passion… but today’s world is so hyped up, that I’m not sure subtle, gentle passion is appreciated.

    Hmmmm…



  40. Rachelle on July 10, 2008 at 6:45 AM

    >Anonymous and everyone,

    The sample chapters I read and commented on were NOT submitted to me for representation. So if you have a project in my query or partial box, don’t worry, it wasn’t you.

    While I sometimes make brief comments about projects I’ve already passed on, I never say anything about any projects still in my box or anything I haven’t responded to. You never have to worry that I’m talking about YOUR project and because of what I said, you’re soon going to get a pass letter from me. If I mention something on the blog about a project I don’t like, I’ve already sent the pass letter.



  41. Anonymous on July 10, 2008 at 6:38 AM

    >I have to write this anoynomous. I sure hope that wasn’t my sample chapters you just read and commented on in your blog. Ouch.
    The truth hurts though, huhh?
    If it was mine, I guess I’ll be getting that “No” email in the near future.
    If it wasn’t, then wuuuuooo, that was a close one.



  42. Andrew on July 10, 2008 at 4:58 AM

    >I think people get so hung up on the craft simply because it’s quantifiable. You can actually see abverbs, long sentences, too much prose, too much dialogue; it’s all stuff you can tinker with in the confines of your study, dressing it all up neat and tidy.

    It’s like focussing on eloquance and pronunciation when giving a speech, not on how moving the speech is. It’s entirely understandable, because you can work on the former until the cows come home, with the latter you get one shot, then that magic has gone.

    Personally, I’m story all the way (I have to be because I know my writing is never going to pull up any trees…hehe). Craft I can work on after the event, clarify how I’m telling the story, but I need that feel of the story first, that unquantifyable something that makes my typing fingers itch (not the fingers I use for everyday chores…hehee).

    And hey, my thoughts are how many times have you talked to your mate in the pub and said “I’m writing this book, it’s got the best paragraphing I’ve ever managed?”….you don’t do you, you tell them about the parts of the story you think are cool.

    Self justification over…hehe



  43. Erastes on July 10, 2008 at 3:47 AM

    >That’s a very interesting question and one that’s close to my heart, for one.

    I wrote my first novel with no idea of what I was doing. I had no clue that there were rules about POV, or showing and telling – all that kind of stuff. I learned via the editing process what I was doing wrong and I found that for the second novel it completely hamstrung me. I was so terrified of doing something wrong that my writing slowed to a crawl and it took me 3 years to finish it, whereas Standish took four months.

    When I presented Transgressions to the publisher they said that they felt it didn’t have the same heart as the first and needed a lot of work… (whereas they’d snapped Standish up, with all its myriad faults!)

    I’m still a little hamstrung with the rules, but I try and write first and worry about the rules afterwards.



  44. Gordon Carroll on July 10, 2008 at 2:23 AM

    >Wow, Great blog!

    For me I think the page turning factor is most important. I love a book that makes me want to not put it down. That leaves me on the cusp at the end of every sentence, unable to leave it go even though I smell home made spaghetti ready in the kitchen and I haven’t eaten since breakfast.

    So for me, I’m with you. Give me that ol’ fashion cliff hanging; page turning can’t put it down type of book every time.



I love words.

I love books and publishing and talking incessantly about them.

I love authors and all the intricacies of managing a writing life.

I sell. I negotiate. I coach. I brainstorm.

SIGN UP HERE TO OCCASIONALLY RECEIVE THE VERY BEST INFORMATION AND RESOURCES FOR AUTHORS
Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.