Story v. Writing Technique: Which is More Important?

At the start of my writing classes, a student always seems to ask, “Could a novel with a great story but mediocre or poor writing technique be successful?
Writing Tip for Today: Behind the question, there’s usually a desperate would-be author, scared of the long process of learning his or her craft. But beyond that, here are some things to consider:

  • Communication is King. Writing with skill not only helps readers understand a book’s message or story, it also helps them transcend the mundane and enter a different realm. If the reader cannot understand what you the author are trying to say, your efforts may be largely wasted. 
  • Word Count Equals Practice. If you as writer don’t want to bother with the 10,000 hours of practice it may take to learn the writing craft, maybe you don’t really want to be a writer. You want to HAVE WRITTEN. You want to be an AUTHOR. In my opinion, the real joy of writing comes not in seeing your name on a bestseller list (although that’s great too!), but in wrestling with an unruly chapter, paragraph, or sentence and subduing it into its best form.
  • Story Trumps Technique. Every time. Readers read for lots of reasons, but perhaps foremost (after seeking info in nonfiction) they long to be part of a story. A novel with wonderful poetic writing but a weak or nonexistent story will have a tough time getting recognized. It’s not fair, but a terrific story with weak writing has a better chance of connecting with readers. Most of the time, though, a novel needs both a great story and the best writing technique it can get. Both writing craft and storytelling ability matter–a lot. So get thy BIC and practice the three P’s!

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

2 comments on “Story v. Writing Technique: Which is More Important?

  1. Obviously you need both! (As you said.) 🙂 The best story can get lost in poor writing and even the best writing can’t savage a poor story. You can’t really have one without the other and expect to have a winner.

  2. Tracy,
    When a student first asked this I wondered why it was even an issue. But after a dozen years of students asking that question, I think it mainly addresses people’s fears about the learning curve. Many of my students arrive with what they believe is a sure-fire winning idea and a less well-developed sense of what the craft requires. I agree, both are usually needed to succeed.
    Thanks for commenting, Linda

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