RARA-AVIS: Writing is Greatly Overrated; It's the story that counts.

From: Jack Bludis ( buildsnburns@yahoo.com)
Date: 27 Oct 2007

It's not the writing that makes a story or an author memorable, it's the story, the novel. Sometimes images enhance a work, but if it doesn't tell a story? What good is it?

In his earlier days, I think, Phillip Roth told great stories. His writing has steadily improved, he still reaches the top of the NYTimes bestseller lists, but how good are his stories today? Not very, I don't think.

The best storyteller, of course, combines that moving forward, that make us want to know what happens next, with the strong images, say like Cormac McCarthy, or the way the Chandler did.

Hemingway made us interested in a man in someone else's revolution in FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, but by then, I think, his writing style was stretched and he over-described. By THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA and A MOVABLE FEAST, he is parodying the style that made him famous, padding OLD MAN and telling not much of a story in FEAST
... Yes, OLD MAN is a great story, but 30,000 words worth? I don't think so.

One of my current favorites is James Lee Burke. Others may
"just love" his description. I like it, but I like the way he unfolds a story, reveals a character, and makes us want to know what happens next. I like better his in-your-face descriptions of the aftermath of Katrina than his tiresome repetition of whatever the hell grows outside his door.

Good writing? I'm all for it. But it takes more than good writing to make a good book or a good story.

There are a lot of "good" writers writing today, some of them contribute regularly, or at least often, to this list. There is a luck factor connected with bestsellerdom, but without the good story, the greatest writing in the world won't give us the luck to reach that point.

Not a writer I know personally thinks that THE DA VINCI CODE is well written, but it told a story that people wanted to read, and it gave those extra bits of information that, although incomplete, certainly are interesting.

Writing is just a part of what produces a good book or a good story, and the greatest writing in the world isn't worth much without story. Did I say that already? It was worth saying again.

OK, that's an opinion, clearly opinion. Take all the shots you want at it.

By the way, and this is totally off topic, but I think this is a good place to tell the story of the origin of one of today's popular sayings. I heard it first when I was a BALTIMORE Colts fan, so you know it was at least 20 years ago:

In the 60's and 70s athletes were more into alcohol than drugs or steroids. Alex Hawkins, then a Colt and now, I think, broadcaster for the Atlanta Falcons, was noted almost as much for his carousing as his gridiron talents. Early one Monday morning after a Sunday afternoon game, he came creeping into the house. His wife, hands on hips
(that's an image I just made up) said as he came through the door, "Where have you been all night?"

Alex said, "I fell asleep in the hammock."

"We took down the hammock last week."

"Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it."

The first part of this message is my opinion, and not anyone on this list is going to talk me out of it.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.


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