Thursday, January 26, 2012

Booking Through Thursday: Good Writing vs. Riveting Premise

If you'd like to join in on Booking Through Thursday, just click here.

This week's question...

What’s more important: Good writing? Or a good story?

(Of course, a book should have BOTH, but…)


I haven't participated in Booking Through Thursday in many weeks. However, today's question is one I wrestle with as a writer and a reader each day. Not surprisingly, my answer is that every story should have equal parts of both. 

As a reader, I confess that it's the premise that makes me pick up a book and the writing that often makes me finish it. I'm one of those people who will set aside a book after the first 100 pages if I'm not fully engaged. If it's a mystery or has some secret that awaits revelation, I will finish the book just to learn the ending. I can think of a few books in recent years that had weaker writing but such a compelling plot that I eagerly kept turning pages. I find that good writing is often the equivalent of a well-drawn character - a character voice I would follow around in any situation, or premise, just because I think he or she is that interesting. 

As a writer, this writing vs. riveting balance is a daily companion. Writers I know constantly ask themselves if their story-line suffers from the dreaded "sagging middle" - that lonely land where some stories fizz out and go to die.  With each new chapter, we have to ask ourselves if the stakes are high enough, if there's enough conflict and action to keep the story moving forward. This is true even in those quiet stories that are more about character growth than character adventure. Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons is a great example. Durable Goods by Elizabeth Berg is another one with a character voice I'd follow all over the world.

To create a book that has equal parts of both, a writer first hones his craft (becomes a good writer) and then daily brings those tools into his workshop and becomes a good story-teller. In my opinion, it is really easy to come up with a good premise. We could create 10 great premises in the comments section of this post today. But, it is a tremendous challenge to successfully execute a good premise. When a book has both, magic happens. I just finished reading Holes by Louis Sachar and it's a great example. City of Thieves by David Benioff and Little Bee by Chris Cleave are two more I'd include in this category.

What say you? What books have YOU read that had equal parts good writing and riveting premise? And just for grins, don't hesitate to toss a good premise idea into your comments! 


  1. IMHO, your writing always has an equal mix of both secret ingredients.

  2. Angie,

    So nice! When you say "secret ingredients" it makes me think of Iron Chef. That would be fun to think of a writing competition with a secret ingredient! :)

  3. Great post! I love how you showed us some examples of what you're describing...and I love how Berg develops her character voice and keeps me turning pages. I want to read Ellen Foster; it's on my list.

    Here's MY THURSDAY MEMES POST and here’s

  4. Yeah, but you'd never be Chopped! :)
    (Love that show.)


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