Hello! Just before Thanksgiving break, one of my NaNoing 6th graders asked a question that I've been mulling on all week. She asked, "What do you think is more important? The plot, or the writing?"
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I love this question. Lydia answered herself quickly enough. "I think it's the plot," she said. "I mean, think about it. Why would you pick a book up anyway? Because you read the back and think it sounds good."
And Lydia's absolutely right: a good story is crucial. But exceptions abound, don't they? What draws us to books, what keeps us in them once we've started? What do we value as readers? Can we finish a book even if it has a lame plot? Does crappy writing make us chuck unfinished stories across the room? I've been trying to compile a list of awesome story/awesome skill titles, and I'm falling woefully short. I thought I'd at least start the list here and ask you all to pile on it with me. :)
Awesome Plot, Awesome Writing
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins has to lead this catagory simply because I just finished it. I'm totally traumatized, of course, and will never shake Cato out of my memory. However its plot is wildly imaginative (as well as horrifying), and the prose is so tight, I almost cried. After reading the first two pages, I shook my head and wondered how I ever thought I could write a novel.
Awesome Plot, Not-so-awesome Writing
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Killer story! Brilliantly eerie concepts of the monsters we create with our own hands. Love how Mary is the monster and her dad inspired the character of the cold-hearted Dr. Frankenstein. Love how she wrote the beginnings of the tale in a Swiss chateau with her hubby Percy and their bff, Lord Byron on a cold summer night, sharing scary stories. Do NOT love the writing. It's stuffy and overwrought. It meanders and moralizes. It clouds things I want clear and illuminates bits I could care less about. But it's a classic. Hmm. Do I just not know good writing when I read it, or could plot maybe weigh in heavier than clean, concise prose? :)
Not-so-awesome Plot, Awesome Writing
The Little Stranger by Sara Waters. I waited years for this latest of Waters' books, and I was woefully disappointed when reading it. Her writing is gorgeous--when I'm in her books, I feel the cramp and cold of old cars, see the late-summer sun glint off of high windows, sigh with the sadness of a mother's slumped shoulder, shield my eyes at gaudily decorated rooms and aristocratic women. But the story wasn't good enough! I know, I know--who am I to say so? But I do say so. A cranky doctor spends 500 pages terrorizing a small family out of their fine home.
Not enough! I did finish the story, but I felt grumpy and let down most of the way through. And I jumped to the end to see 'whodunit.' So, maybe no matter how gorgeous my writing grows to be after decades of practice, I will not rely on style to tell a stale tale.
Not-so-awesome Plot, Not-so-awesome Writing
Pretty Little Liars. I want to simultaneously give this series a frat-boy high-five and a wicked-twisty snake bite. You know the kind where you make your frenemy's forearm burn? Because I think the plots are ridiculous and the writing made my eyes feel coated in bubblegum: "she watched his tight-from-running ass" and "taut-from-swimming abs." Seriously? But I finished the whole first book. So well done, Sara Shepard. I mean, holy cow--debuting as a best-seller? Nabbing a TV series? Seriously--high five!
I waded through over 300 pages of teenage sex, drugs, stealing, drinking, lying, and blackmail. Why? Because no matter how much it drove me crazy, I wanted to know who was sending the mysterious texts. Is that a good plot? I don't think so. I think it's a brilliant gimmick. Especially since we don't find out the texter's identity until book four. :)
So, the cynic in me raises an eyebrow and wonders, is gimmick even more important than plot and writing style?
No, no, no. Of course it isn't.
But is it?
Tell me what you think!
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