As Mark Twain said, “I like a good story well told.” Sadly, that’s not the case for all works of fiction that line the shelves of bookstores. Not even every book that makes its way onto a bestseller list is well told. So, which is more important? The story or the telling of it?
I would assume that most writers aim to do both, but story tends to win out. The Harry Potter series, for me, is the pinnacle of a good story well told. The stories are riveting, the characters have dimension, and the imagination and detail that has gone into creating the world of Harry Potter are rich. You taste the butterbeer. You feel like you are playing Quidditch, diving from a bludger.
For some die-hard fans, what I’m about to say might irritate you. I don’t think that novels like Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey are in any way well told. Please don’t cyber punch me. Story-wise, obviously there is something there. Without the story being enticing, Fifty wouldn’t have sold over 60 million copies. The Twilight series has sold over 120 million copies. Clearly, the telling of the story, good or bad, does not define your sales. A good story is a good story.
As someone midway through Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel Handbook, he encourages authors to not just look at plot, stakes and conflict, but at how enticing your first and last lines are, the detail in your setting, creating symbols in your novel, etc. All of these elements help to create a rich piece of writing. But, again, without a good plot you have nothing.
Do you have examples of a well told story, not just a great story?