Good Writing vs. Good Storytelling Abilities

Agents are often asked what exactly they are looking for and writers often receive a nebulous response from them.  We’ve all heard agents say that they are looking to ‘fall in love’ with the story.  That’s a given.  If an agent cannot emotionally respond to a story and feel passion for it, then it makes complete sense that the agent wouldn’t want to use his or her valuable time and resources to represent the writer.

To me, the most important thing is the story.  Without a story worth telling, something someone hasn’t said before or maybe something that has always been said but not in this particular way, most people probably wouldn’t be interested in reading it.  There are so many fine writers out there but sometimes I wonder, where the story and why should I be interested?  Some people are natural storytellers and highly entertaining in person.  The question is if that translates on the page.

I believe that writing can be taught and honed but there are individuals out there who have more talent than others.  However, if you don’t nurture that talent by writing, critiquing and generally engaging in the process of writing on a consistent basis, it’s going to be harder to reach your goals.

At a bare minimum, both good writing and good storytelling ability is critical to developing a manuscript that will be attractive to editors.  Forget the other hurdles of platform, sales, comparable titles.  The marketplace can wait until you, dear writer, have polished and finally made your manuscript ‘ready’ for other eyes to pore over.

What do you think is harder to master, good writing or good storytelling?

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5 comments

  1. The answer is no the same for everyone. My relative strength is original storytelling, while my relative weakness is writing with prose in my second language. In order to master writing I have to use THESAURUS, for example, and also to see how other famous writers are writing. I can’t see myself writing literary fiction like Lisa See, for example, so I stay at commercial fiction. But other writers can write fluently and easily, but need to master the original storytelling. Each writer can find her or his readers.

  2. Interesting, thanks for sharing that. It can be difficult to write prose in a second language. Have you experimented with writing in your native language and having someone translate and comparing that to your writing in a second language? I agree that each writer can find his or her readers, especially in this day and age with the advent of self-publishing. I do think agents still serve an important role however in finding the right editor/ publishing house to connect the writer to the broadest audience possible.

  3. I’m better now in English than my native language after spending almost all my adult life in North America. Now, I can only write well in English. But I compensate for my relative weakness in two ways. I write visually, like it’s a movie and I write “America-Foreign country” commercial fictions where my biggest selling market will be the foreign market and then the US. Have no plan to self-published.

  4. It all takes a lot of work, as you know, but I find that if the story is truly there, the writing will improve with each draft. With persistence, the writing improves from piece to piece.

    It’s hard to separate story-telling and the writing, really. A truly good story is compelling enough to (if written down) dictate the voice and the writing. Story, for me, contains the language and the voice…otherwise, it is just plot.

    I write either about science or short stories that contain science. Story is what holds the reader’s interest throughout, as long as the writing is not a barrier for the reader.

    Thank you for writing.


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