On hooks and stories

I missed another daily post! Dammit all to hell. This one will be longer to make up for it.

I’ve been reflecting on what I consider to be good among my own writing. The problem is, the stuff that I think of as being real quality is fan fiction, and not really something I can spread around too far. It exists, though, and I’m glad I wrote it – even if much of it is basically porn without plot.

The secret, you see, is that writing well isn’t actually that hard. Producing quality prose is largely a matter of practice, and getting to grips with the mechanics of storytelling as a craft. What’s really difficult is coming up with a compelling story, and sparking enough imagination in a reader’s mind that they desperately want to continue because they must know what happens next.

It’s hard because there isn’t really any kind of skill you can apply to it. You can either write narrative that sinks into the mind and grips the audience, or you can’t. I know this because I know of several writer friends, those that I highly respect, who can produce excellent prose… but their stories lack some indefinable quality that hooks the reader. I don’t believe that study of story structure or the Hero’s Journey can really help, either. There is a flow and a rhythm to narrative that seems indefinable sometimes, like music.

That hook is almost more important than actual quality work. Readers will forgive many sins if the premise is sufficiently promising.

That said, a good premise is easily ruined by truly terrible writing. Bad prose is an effective barrier to the reader truly engaging with a story. But it’s a truth that should be acknowledged more often that merely serviceable prose is good enough for a story premise that really wows the reader, whereas excellent prose can’t save a premise that’s passé and boring.

For the record, I’m pretty sure my ability to write a good premise is only average at best.


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