21 July, 2011

Do You Have To Like The Writing To Enjoy A Book?

There are characters, there's the setting, and there's plot--but what about writing?

Is it necessary, as a reader, to like the writing of a book? There are all different styles, each writer has their own, and it's a rather important aspect to a novel.

I find there are three major types of writing when I'm reading a book:

There are unique, surprising styles. Books written in the second POV come to mind, ones that break the fourth wall, or ones that have a distinctive voice to them, both outside of and including the dialogue. This can be hit-or-miss: one person might adore books with a sharp, snarky tone and another person might view them with much dislike.

Then there's writing that doesn't have much that sticks out about it. Description, dialogue, characters, they're all there, but the writing itself is unobtrusive. That can be a negative or a positive, depending on the story itself; whether or not the plot and characters are enough to keep the attention, or whether the writing is just bland.

And then there's some writing that is . . . er, "unedited". In need of spell-check, an editor, perhaps a good overhaul. We've all seen it somewhere, I suspect. This can be more easily overlooked if there's something interesting about the story, but coming across errors repeatedly can jar the reading experience.

These are, of course, generalizations. Every person's style is different, and each has their own pluses and minuses.

What do you think? What kind of writing do you like--ones that focus on the story itself, or ones that use clever tricks that draw attention to themselves? Are there any books whose writing style you love?

-----The Golden Eagle


Alleged Author said...

I actually love the writing style of Stephen King even though I could NEVER spend that much time on description. Over the years, his style has evolved. He used to spend pages characterizing his MCs (i.e. The Stand) and now spends pages characterizing the MCs and including plot (i.e. Under the Dome). I think I like the latter better.

Sarah McCabe said...

There have only been a handful of books over the years where I've said to myself "I love this author's writing style". Most of the time I much prefer a simple, clear writing style that you don't really notice.

Brittany said...

I like writing that has its own very distinct style, but only if the story is a more literary story or doesn't have as many plot developments (one example is the book Wintergirls). But if stories like Harry Potter were written in a style like Wintergirls, then it would probably be distracting. So for me, it depends on what type of story it is. Also, if the writing has too many errors or just isn't good, then I probably won't keep reading.

Christine Rains said...

It all depends on the story itself. If the story is boring, I can't read on even if the writing is spectacular. Style is important, but I can push through some bad writing if the story is great.

Beverly Diehl said...

The BEST writing is where it's invisible - the writer skillfully draws the reader into the story, so that we feel we're there, either we ARE the Main Character, or we're his/her shadow.

Bad writing (typos, excessive description, gimmicky chapter endings, set-ups that don't pay off) - anything that makes me AWARE - "You are reading a book" is a distraction, IMO, and does make me dislike it. For me, that's even happened with best-sellers that have been loved by many and made into movies.

That said, sometimes a bit of prose is so gorgeous I will reread it for the pure pleasure of it, and marvel, "How did s/he do that?"

Writing in Flow

Budd said...

If I am noticing the writing, good or bad, it is drawing me out of the story. If you want to do something fancy, that is why God created poetry.

Now if you have this fancy style that has a voice that the reader can fall into, it isn't detracting and can work, but few people can pull it off.

Tere Kirkland said...

I tend to seek out stories with plain writing and interesting plots, but lately I've noticed that the most satisfying reads are the ones where language is used in a way that only adds to the storytelling quality.

I expect this from a more literary work, but I've read a few recently that manage to combine both, the best example being the ARC I read of Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

Emily Rose said...

I just finished reading a book that had a wonderful story, but I couldn't stand the writing style. I think if it had been a really long book, and the story wasn't very good, I would have abandoned it. But I was able to stick with it, and I'm glad I did.
I honestly couldn't say what my favorite writing style is. I just like it when the the style doesn't distract from the story, if that makes sense.:)

Heather said...

While I love a great story and strong characters, it all comes down to the writing for me. If the writing is lacking then it feels as though the author didn't put enough work into it.

Bryce Daniels said...

I'm pretty open to any POV, except second. Never have been able to like that approach.

For me, the big thing is voice. If a writer can sing to me through his words, I'm in for the long haul.

"The Juror" by George Dawes Green is one of the best books I have read in the last decade. (You have to like thrillers and crime fiction, tho.)

If you do? Read it. His voice is spectacular, in my mind.

Madeleine said...

Good question. I can tell you those styles I cannot manage. Those are the telling styles with little description and emotion. I have to enjoy the writing style to enjoy the novel and believe in the characters. To feel fully satisfied the plot must also deliver. I couldn't cope with Jasper Fforde or Kazuo Ishiguro for example, but love Andrea Levy and Lori Lansens; while Tom Perrotta and Patrick Ness have a fast paced style they are still very readable, too. :O)

KarenG said...

Yes, I have to like the writing, the voice of the narrator or I won't keep reading. And a simple writing style actually takes a great deal of skill.

Donna K. Weaver said...

There are lots of things I like about writing. Voice is big.

Michelle Fayard said...

What a great question. Yes, I have to love, or at least really like, the writing, even if the book is about one of my favorite topics.

I am delighted to be a new follower of yours; your blog is beautifully designed. And thank you for following Bird’s-eye View.

Old Kitty said...

I've never ever thought of a book in terms of writing styles. I guess so long as I'm drawn in, I'm in!

Perhaps if pushed, I'd say "stream of consciousness" type writing may put me off (hint hint Ulysses, sorry!!!) but that's cos this particular style hurts my small brain but it obviously makes other people very happy!! Take care

Compulsive Crystal said...

I have put books down because I couldn't stand the writing--even in the middle. Surprisingly, I find myself reading one right now where the writing drives me BONKERS, but I HAVE to know how the author is going to resolve the conflict. For me it's a question of character and plot. As long as both exist in a compelling fashion, I'm hooked.

RaShelle said...

You know, I just read the last HP recently and I was thinking about writing style as I read. Her writing is unobtrusive, which I liked alot, because it allowed the characters to shine through.

Lynda R Young said...

I find it hard to read a book if the writing is a distraction eg due to too many passive verbs or too many typos. I have trouble shutting off my inner editor. Of course, having said that, I still think story is number one important.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I like simple, rapid-pace style, like Timothy Zahn and Preston & Child - those authors' books read like a movie. Overly descriptive or overly-colorful and poetic writing just doesn't work for me.

Brian said...

I like the ones that focus on the story. Hey, I like your new look here!!!

Laila Knight said...

I'm ok with POV. Lack of edits get on my nerves, but I can overlook that too. What bothers me is a slow plot. If the writer just drags it on with too much description I find myself skimming ahead. Also, I prefer books that can be understood by a wide variety of readers...don't know if this makes sense, but if I read something I'd like to be able to hand it to a younger person and not have then say, "What does this mean?" :)

Angelina C. Hansen said...

When the writing is invisible, when I'm so engrossed in the story I forget that I'm actually reading words on a page. My favorite example is Amy Efaw's AFTER. Third person, deep POV, present tense. I didn't notice the writing until years later when I went back to analyze why it was SO GOOD.

magpiewrites said...

For some reason, I can't listen to songs with (what I consider) bad/corny lyrics. I never could. Makes my musical tastes far from the mainstream -but I don't feel the same way about books for some reason. I've read books that have not great writing that I can't put down, despite the obvious flaws. I've also thrown over books that had gorgeous, beautiful writing, not able to even finish them. For me it's the combination of both elements that makes, as Beverly says, invisible, seamless.

Sarah Pearson said...

I will always take substance over style. The story is more important to me than the writing style. That said, whilst I will put up with a certain level of bad editing, I have my limits :)

Dan said...

If the story is good, the writing is like the bass in a song. I don't notice it that much but I know it's there.

Unless the writing is really bad. Then it's like that lead guitar that's so off key you want to jam something in your ears.

Jemi Fraser said...

Some styles draw me in. When I first read The Hobbit, I felt as if I'd fallen into another world - the style was pure magic. In LotR it got even stronger!

Emily Rittel-King said...

I have to love the voice and the characters. If the reel me in, I don't care about the plot.

Misha said...

There are a couple of authors whose writing style I love - Sarah Dunant, Kate Morton and Nicole Krauss.

Writing is not the most important aspect for me though. If the book is good overall, I can enjoy the writing style too. But if I hate the characters and/or the plot is boring, I can't appreciate the writing no matter how brilliant it is.

Rusty Webb said...

If it's a plot driven story then I don't want to even notice the language the author is using to tell the it. I want it invisible.

If it's a story where the narrator is a character, like most first person tales, then I probably prefer a more noticeable voice.

Sun Singer said...

Some experts claim that we shouldn't note the writing style of a book; they believe it should be invisible.

I see the point, but don't agree. I like the style to be special, to seem as though it fits THIS book and no other.

Beth said...

My cp says books in need of editing bother me more than they do most people. I don't know if this is true, but they do bother me. However, I can think of one best selling series that could have used a few more rounds of editing, but the characters were strong as was the story and I overlooked the writing. I guess if something about the book is awesome I can overlook the writing.

Janet Johnson said...

I really like writing that is unobtrusive. Where the story and characters come alive, and I'm not thinking "Wow this is written well," but rather "Wow, this is a great story!"

....Petty Witter said...

I've thought a lot about this AND I've come to the conclusion that its easier to answer which style I don't like. I find it difficult to read books where the author opts to use the dialect of that place, writing and spelling as the characters would speak.

Charles Gramlich said...

Writing style is very important to me. I may like a book that has the 'unobtrusive" style but I'll almost never love it. a truly great book has to have both for me.

Regina said...

Sometimes depending on the story, if it draws me in enough, I don't notice the writing. But if it is something that doesn't have my attention then I can pick it apart.

Mark Noce said...

I know it may sound cliche, but I really like to let the unconscious part of the mind take over during the first draft and put more conscious endeavors into the next go through, but maybe that's just me:)

The Golden Eagle said...

Alleged Author: I prefer it, too, when more time is spent including plot as well. It bring along more of the actual story.

Sarah: I don't mind a few unique things about a writing style, but too much just gets in the way. :P

Brittany: True! Literary Fiction does allow for more space for the writing to really shine out.

Christine: I agree. Problems can be overlooked, if the plot is strong.

Beverly: Although some character voice, if it's told through the first person POV, can connect more strongly to writing, right? Usually the non-dialogue parts have a distinct voice particular to a single character.

Me, too. :)

Budd: I agree, even if it's good, writing can draw the reader out of a story.

And it's quite fun to read when an author does manage to.

Tere: A balance is always good!

Sounds like a good writing style there. :)

Emily: It does! I know I don't like it when the writing style pulls me out of a story, drawing more attention to itself than the plot or characters.

Heather: True. Writing that doesn't agree with the reading experience can make it feel like the author didn't put enough work into it.

Bryce: I like second POV, actually; in smaller doses than, say, first or third. I've even thought about writing a book from that perspective. :P

I've never heard of The Juror--I don't read much crime/thriller (well, some thriller, but practically no crime) but if the voice is good . . . I'll have to find out more about it.

Madeleine: Er, you sort of lost me there. I've never heard of any of those authors before!

But I agree, if the writing style is good, then it can go a long way into convincing me that the characters are people worth reading about. :)

The Golden Eagle said...

Karen: True. Not too much detail, yet still being able to communicate what's happening and how things are.

Donna: For me, too!

Michelle: I don't necessarily have to like it, but it will certainly turn me away from reading another book by that same author.

Thank you so much for following me! Welcome to The Eagle's Aerial Perspective.

I'm glad you like the blog design. :)

You're welcome!

Old Kitty: I never really liked stream of consciousness, either. I read one book where there were paragraphs upon paragraphs of the character's thoughts . . . I didn't skip it, exactly, but my eyes did sort of glaze over after a while. LOL.

Compulsive Crystal: Plot and characters are the two main elements for me--with setting and writing just behind.

RaShelle: I love J. K. Rowling's writing style. :D

Lynda: I don't tend to notice passive verbs much, although typos will give me the urge to snatch Wite-Out and a pen. :P

Same for me!

Alex: I've never read anything by those authors; but I love books that move fast.

I don't mind some description, as long as it flows, but too much just bogs down the story.

Brian: Me, too! :)

Actually, it's the same look . . . LOL. But hey, I'm glad you like it!

Laila: I don't mind POV much, either. And I agree, slow plot doesn't hold much appeal. Whenever I come across one I'll start to skim the description or other less necessary stuff.

It's nice when things appeal to a wider group! Plus, if it doesn't make sense for, say, YA then I don't see why it should make sense for Adult. :P

Angelina: I've never heard of the book or author, but I like the sound of the writing! :)

Magpiewrites: Those are the best kind!

Sarah: Same here. :)

Dan: LOL. Great analogy. And it's true, a good writing style is there . . . but you don't notice it.

Jemi: I love J. R. R. Tolkien's writing style. He puts in a lot of description, but it isn't slow.

Emily: It's a bit of the opposite for me; plot comes first, then the characters and writing.

Misha: I haven't read books by those authors. Sounds like I should. :)

It does detract from the writing, if the other elements of the book don't appeal.

The Golden Eagle said...

Rusty: But surely you could have both strong writing and plot?

I've been thinking about voice more; especially since I'm thinking about starting a new story in first person that has a character with a very strong voice. :P

Malcolm: It certainly makes a book more memorable when the voice is that unique!

Beth: Same here. If the plot or characters is strong enough, the writing will fade more into the background.

Janet: That's usually what I think, too. :)

Tracy: I agree. It can be hard to understand some slang (like, for example, that used in Gone With the Wind).

Charles: I think so, too.

Regina: True. If there's nothing keeping my attention, then the writing will come into focus more.

Mark: Same here! I usually work on the the writing more during rewrites/revisions.

M Pax said...

I like plotting that I can't sniff out before chapter one ends. I like well written stuff. Doesn't need tricks or anyting. Voice and atmosphere are big attracters for me, too.

Rusty Webb said...

I probably chose my words poorly when I mentioned a plot driven story. I guess there are the types of books where the author wants you to see his world like your looking through a window. Said author probably doesn't want you paying attention to the glass - it would distract you from what's happening outside.

The work you're planning sounds like you want your narrator to be a character - then you do want a strong voice. It can be very plot driven as well.

nutschell said...

Sometimes the story will carry me through if its good enough. But if the writing is atrocious I might just put it down. However, I have read a few books which I wanted to throw halfway through, but I finished reading them anyway bec. i'm stubborn like that.

ali said...

Great topic Eags! I like writing that disappears into a good story. If the writing is too showy and I notice it a lot, I don't like it. If the writing is sloppy and under edited, then I don't like it either. :) Give me a happy medium, please!

Misha said...

I like writing that's distinct and fresh, but it must NEVER draw attention to itself. I'm there to read a story. Not the "masterful abilities" of a writer.


Clarissa Draper said...

I think it depends on the mood I'm in. If I'm in the mood for a challenge, I love reading Austen or Virginia Woolf. But, if I'm looking for escape, a good blandly written mystery is just perfect.

Emma:) said...

I just have a question about your button: Do you have a smaller version, because It won't fit in my sidebar!

The Golden Eagle said...

M: I really don't like things I can figure out from a mile away. It's frustrating to sit around while the characters struggle when the conclusion just seems so simple. :P

Rusty: I like that analogy. The clearer the glass, the better the view.

Yup. First person, present tense. I wrote a couple blog posts in that style before, and I'm planning to jump off of those to start.

Nutschell: LOL. I don't put down many books after I start them, although I have done it for books whose characters/plot bogged things down.

ali: I don't like showy writing, either; it gets in the way of the actual story. :P

Happy medium sounds good!

Misha: And besides, a "masterful" writer would most likely know that that kind of writing doesn't work very well. Otherwise, what's so masterful about it?

Clarissa: True! Some books have more complicated language than others; I'm avoiding War and Peace for that reason. :P

Emma: Here's a link to a smaller, resized button:


Thank you for asking! :)