Is there such thing as a great story with lousy writing?

I stumbled across a question that asked “Would you rather read a great story with lousy writing, or a meh story with fabulous writing?” … but, is it even possible to have a great story with lousy writing?

I don’t think so.

Thoughts?

PS. My friend Stu is letting me use his WI-FI to write this blog. He wanted a shout out, so thanks Stuart 🙂

About Jodie @ Words Read & Written

Book blogger & aspiring author.
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86 Responses to Is there such thing as a great story with lousy writing?

  1. Definitely possible. I recently read a story that had really interesting characters and massive potential, but the writing was … lacking. Lol.

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  2. Green Embers says:

    I think it’s possible. It’s kind of like in films, the script overcomes mediocre acting to still make something great, or the acting overcomes mediocre writing to still make something great. My answer to the question though, is I would rather reading a great story with great writing, that just might be me though. 😀

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  3. pamelahart23 says:

    It can be done, but I won’t read it. If the writing’s bad, what’s the point of going on? There’re too many other options to read great writing.

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  4. krystal jane says:

    I actually think it is possible. But like some others have said, I’m not going to read it because it would be distracting to me. I recently started a book with an interesting plot line but pretty ho-hum writing. I couldn’t even finish it and I really did want to know what was going on. Obviously not bad enough to push through the mess though. Another example, my sister said she loved the Divergent series, but said the author of the series isn’t a very good writer so I probably wouldn’t like it. I believe her since we give each other book recommendations all the time. And I think Twilight might actually be another example. It’s obviously a likeable story, but the writing is really atrocious in spots and just mediocre in the rest. For some people though, lousy writing isn’t enough to deter them from the story, they can ignore it. I’m not one of those people. I try to ignore, but it really keeps me from enjoying the good parts at the end.

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  5. Heather M. says:

    Yes, totally possible. I just read a book that I had to put down because the writing was so bad. It was horrific really. But the story was a really great concept and I am sure it had an amazing ending, but I couldn’t finish reading it. It made me want to throw my Kindle against a wall and curse it into oblivion. I would love to know what happened at the end, but just the thought of picking that book up again makes my skin crawl. I would demand a refund if I was a mean person.

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  6. Olga Godim says:

    Good writing is paramount. A good writer can make a lousy story shine, turn it into a gem. A bad writer can ruin an excellent story. Skills are necessary in any form of arts.

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  7. a.h.richards says:

    Short answer. No. Longer answer, absolutely no.

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  8. a.h.richards says:

    As an addendum: I’ve edited many a bad book in my time. It has always been painful to see decent ideas so woefully spoken; or worse, bad ideas badly written. Then again, to my mind, 50 Shades of Gray is abysmal, as a story and in its writing, and millions think its a good book. I’m not being equivocal though; I would still hold the opinion, even talking with lovers of the book, that it is a bad book, badly written; one that, in a better world, would never have been published.

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  9. The Laughable Cheese says:

    To me It depends on just how bad the writing is.

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  10. Widdershins says:

    Yes, it’s possible, but will I read it? no. There are too many well written good stories out there to use up my very limited reading time on something I want to throw at a wall.

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  11. amandadolsen says:

    Reblogged this on Ikastra and commented:
    I totally agree with Jodie on this one, but it seems we may be in the minority.

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  12. “An American Haunting” was a movie that I thought was done well. I thought for sure I’d retroactively like the book. The book was such a train wreck that I literally believe the movie’s inspiration was extracted from the synopsis–and not the story proper.

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  13. marlainagray says:

    Actually I don’t think the writing on “Frankenstein” was that wonderful, but the ideas in it and the theme of it were amazing. And arguably “Dracula” drags in parts because of the way it’s written. But both of these books were genre-defining. So it’s possible for a book to be great despite its writing.

    Totally agree about “50 Shades,” though, I couldn’t get through it.

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  14. I had read a book not too long ago that fits this description. The three main characters were fabulous! The plot was tense! I could not put it down! All marks of a great book you would think, right? Ugh! The prose was AWFUL. The “head hopping” was the WORST. But somehow the tale was good enough to allow me to get past it (not ignore it, since that’s not possible).
    As far as 50 Shades of Gray goes, I recall downloading the sample onto my Kindle and as soon as the protagonist started complaining about some blonde character (which Bella used to do often in Twilight) I was thinking that there was not enough effort made to cover up its origins as Twilight fanfic, so I never made it past that sample…

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  15. (Scratching my head.) Good question. I’m going to say no — to be great, you need both. It’s all intertwined. You need good writing skills — description, characterization, vivid setting — to bring a story to life. Without good writing, the story is a muddled, lifeless mess. And you can have the most powerful, most beautiful writing in the world, but it’s all just throwing up aimless, pretty words on a page without a good story.

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  16. honeybadgersbookclub says:

    I’m going to say YES, because I’ve had the experience of reading a book and thinking,’this is a great story, it just needs a really good editor to come along with the red pen..’ so that shows for me that the story and the writing can be distinguished from one another.

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  17. Dustin says:

    I know it’s possible, as I’ve read several that told a captivating tale but, IMO, the writing was lousy. Not to brag or anything, but I could write a better rough draft, let alone a final product.

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    • a.h.richards says:

      With you there, Dustin. I’ve read some novels that have potential, somewhere, but just have been so abysmally written that finding the good is an exercise in masochism. This links directly to the other question that garnered a lot of discussion on Jodie’s blog; whether or not to self-publish or go the traditional route. There has been utter rubbish published either way, but I would go so far as to say that 50% of self-published work should have remained in hiding, collecting dust. The other 50% is the good stuff that traditional publishers missed, or have never seen.

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      • Dustin says:

        Why thank you, Richards, I appreciate you saying so! And I totally agree: there are a lot of novels with great potential, but the author either lacks the skills to pull it off or they’re unaware of just how much potential they actually have.

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  18. Luna Cooler says:

    For some, it is possible. For me, it’s not. I think this is more of an opinion question in disguise. XD

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  19. fireflyin says:

    It’s totally true. Great stories have been mauled by the writer’s inability to put two words together. For me, I need a little of both–great story and great writing. But I guess if it came down to choosing one, I’d go with great writing. That’s a personal preference, though. As far as getting published/produced, double down on great story. Every time.

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  20. I’ve read books where the story hints at really interesting world elements that I think will come back into the story in a big way, but are never explored. It is, to me, the saddest thing that can happen to a book because it feels like you’re being gipped out of seeing the world. In my experience, this typically happens in YA more than any other genre, where a lot of rich world building is skipped over for the sake of romance or some other character or plot-driven events. It could just be the limitations of the word count, or maybe it’s because I’m a writer that makes looking “behind the curtain” a habit so that I’ll know what to include in my own stories.

    I would always rather read a great story with great writing, but sometimes I encounter possibly-great stories with lousy writing. 😦

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  21. Great story with lousy writing can lead to better discussion about that story, possibly making it more interesting. Talk of this great story spreads by word of mouth, enouraging more people to check it out. I don’t think a weak story with fabulous writing accomplishes the same thing. All one has to do is look no further than The DaVinci Code to understand what I mean.

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  22. barn7777 says:

    I agree with you on this. I do not believe you can have a great story with lousy writing–the story will be lost in the writing–the writing will be too distracting. Or maybe I should say, a great story will be hidden in the lousy writing–it will not come to surface.

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  23. jpkenna says:

    I’ll pick good writing any day. Even if the story is so-so. Approaching 70 years of age, I can no longer waste my remaining time in plowing through bad–or just mediocre–writing.

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  24. rolltidejen says:

    If the writing sucks, no. I just can’t do it. I forced myself to read the first few chapters of “50 Shades” and was appalled by the craptastic writing, so I put it down. Forever. Lots of my friends love that trilogy, but I find the writing absolutely horrific. But then, the author is raking in the dough, so what do I know? lol

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  25. Asiaelle says:

    Reblogged this on Lux and commented:
    The quote alone is amazing but this is a must read for aspiring writers:

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  26. Asiaelle says:

    I feel like I am more willing to give authors a chance if their writing is just okay but the story and characters are interesting: at the very least I will want to know how a story ends on the other end of that I would not want to read a repetitive, predictable story with amazing writing. I just doesn’t have any appeal or re-read value.

    At least an okay writer may get better after the course of a book or two but when someone weaves a lousy story there is no second chance.

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  27. vscot848 says:

    Lousy writing, maybe not. Average writing, absolutely. I will stop reading a book if it’s filled with grammatical errors or other issues. But, if it’s just average writing, a phenomenal story will pull me through. We’ve seen this with Fifty Shades of Grey or Twilight. These novels, I would argue, have average writing, but readers are drawn to the stories. The authors didn’t do too badly for themselves, because they had compelling stories that millions of readers have bought into.

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  28. However great the story, it falls short if the writing is poorly-crafted.

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  29. civilinathan says:

    I’m going to go against the grain on this one and say Yes, you CAN have a good story with bad writing.

    Now, it’s not an excuse for really poor writing, just a requirement for a more thoroughly crafted universe. Hell, I’ve read stories based on how interesting the COVER ART is and how cool I think the universe will be because of that. Of course, an inversely proportional relationship is involved; the better a premise and more vivid a universe, the worse writing I’m willing to put up with to see how it goes, even if I’m re-writing all the dialogue in my head.

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