Story is King

Story is superior to sleep.

Thanks to the lovely Amazon gift card I received for Christmas, I was reminded of this truth in the other day. Or should I say wee hours of the morning. A good story will keep me up long past when I know I should be asleep, and two have done so this week. I recently finished The Spirit Well by Stephen Lawhead and Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan. Once taken up, I had great difficulty putting either of them down. Which is why I finished in less than a week.

While reading them, something else struck me as a reminder.

Story is superior to all when it comes to a book.

Now before you throw tomatoes and say craft is important, etc, etc, I understand and agree. However, it was quite apparent in both stories that the author’s ignored obvious rules of the craft that would have annoyed certain critique-rs and been lambasted in some critique groups. Had I submitted them as my own to a general critique loop, I know I would have received some serious red ink.

Stephen Lawhead is a successful writer many times over, and one of the most recognized names in the Christian Fantasy genre. Yet, he hopped heads (in the same scene) throughout The Spirit Well. He used dialogue tags with adverbs on many occasions when an action beat or simple “said” would have “been better”. Some people who did the Blog Tour for the book pointed this out as well. Maybe it’s because he’s been writing so long that his style predates the more modern rules of writing intimately close to the character?

Yet Michael Sullivan, another highly successful writer, did the same. He head hopped, although less than Lawhead. There was an early flashback where the point-of-view character used “had” a total of 14 times in two paragraphs.

While the Bright Empires series by Lawhead is not my favorite of his, both his book and Sullivan’s kept me pushing the button for the next page on my kindle. How is this possible?

Because story is king.


Some would say you can’t have a good story without good writing. I say rubbish. A story is either awesome or not.

Now storytelling … that’s a different … erm story.

Even a great story will appear awful with bad storytelling. But amazing stories trump a few broken rules. Good stories can’t afford to do that. With so many people out there writing these days, that leaves two options. Dream up an amazing story or work like the dickens to tell a good story the best way. Either way, the story better be great.

So, where does that leave me at the end of 2012? If I had the full answer to that, I’d be published 🙂 For now, I know I want to hone my craft as best I possibly can to tell the stories I’m working on the best way I possibly can. But I also want to find those great ideas. I’m gonna keep writing, keep learning, keep exploring, and keep dreaming. The rest? Well we’ll see what 2013 brings!


About Will Ramirez

Will Ramirez grew up with a love for God's Word and fantastical worlds. The first passion led him to pastor Calvary Chapel Lighthouse for the the last 17 years. The second led him to create the world of Adme, the setting for his coming debut novel, an epic fantasy titled Soul Yearning. He lives in Central Florida with his bride of seventeen years and their four children. Since 2010, he's been a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and serves on the leadership team of Word Weavers of Orlando. He is currently working on the second book of the Godslayer series as well as The Unspoken, book one of a dark fantasy trilogy. In the land of Adme, powerful beings rule as deities and compete with one another for followers. But when a young priest is revealed as the prophesied godslayer, the pantheon unites to destroy him.

4 comments on “Story is King

  1. I agree. I absolutely loved “Starflower” by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, even though it committed one of my pet peeves: it hopped between characters from sentence to sentence. But I loved the story so much that I just had to keep reading. In the same line, I just downloaded a galley that had been given negative reviews for poor writing. And honestly, the craft was poor on all counts. However, the concept, storyline, and characters were so compelling that I stayed up far too late reading. All right, I may have skipped over some sections that probably should have cleaned up, but the central plotline had me riveted.

    Just goes to show…

  2. Will, when you say “story,” do you mean just plot, or plot + characters? To me, story = plot + characters. A book with great plot and characters will overcome mechanical and style issues.

    My theory is that whether a book succeeds despite weak craft depends on the genre. In the suspense, action, and speculative genres, a great plot will overcome weakness in other areas.

    In romance and women’s fiction, great characters will overcome weakness in other areas.

    I think writers pay way more attention to mechanics than readers do. And of course, multipublished authors can get away with stuff the rest of us can’t.

    • To me story would be worldbuilding, plot, and characters.

      The Spirit Well doesn’t have super compelling characters in my opinion, but his concept of time travel (worldbuilding) is totally unique and the plot is way cool even though it meanders a bit.

      In Theft of Swords, his main characters are two thieves who have a conscience (and a deeper story that he only hints at), a selfish young man who matures into a true ruler when his father, the king dies, and an incredibly powerful, but totally enigmatic wizard without hands. See doesn’t that sound cool already? Plus when a book starts with the two thieves getting robbed who critique those who are robbing them, you know you’re in for a great ride 🙂

      Lawhead is a multi-published author and although I’m a loyal fan, I’ll be the first to admit that his writing seems to have gotten lazy with his more recent books. Sullivan however is a self-published success who was signed by Orbit after he’d already made a name for himself. So, he got away with it because he’d already showed he could sell. Which is the bottom line (pun intended).

  3. That’s a good point about people who have been writing for a long time and not having to use all the stylistic things us new writers are shoehorned into. I noticed that about Kathy Tyers, too. Although I read a bunch of Stephen Lawhead before I started studying craft, and I never had problems understanding him. I do get tired of his voice, though.

    But you’re right, story is king. Look at the success of the Twilight books. People didn’t care how poorly-written they were. They had juicy sparkly vampires and hawt werewolves. 🙂

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