Is Writing a Meritocracy?

BWFoster78

Myth Weaver
Getting to stupid people, I'm not sure I would jump to that conclusion. I know lots of very smart people who are excellent writers and readers who loved the Twilight books, for example, and the writing proficiency there is mediocre. Meyer succeeded as a story teller, however.

I'm obligated any time someone criticizes Meyer to state:

Midnight Sun is one of the best books I've ever read, and it's a half-finished rough draft. Any author who wants to say that Meyer's writing isn't very good, please show me something that you wrote that engages me even half as well.

[/obligatory comment]

Note: The statement is not directed at Steerpike. He and I, to the best of my recollection, agree that Meyer is unfairly maligned.
 

Steerpike

Felis amatus
Moderator
I'm obligated any time someone criticizes Meyer to state:

Midnight Sun is one of the best books I've ever read, and it's a half-finished rough draft. Any author who wants to say that Meyer's writing isn't very good, please show me something that you wrote that engages me even half as well.

[/obligatory comment]

Note: The statement is not directed at Steerpike. He and I, to the best of my recollection, agree that Meyer is unfairly maligned.

I haven't read that one. I thought Twilight was a great job of story telling, with mediocre writing, but I thought the writing in The Host was better.
 

BWFoster78

Myth Weaver
I haven't read that one. I thought Twilight was a great job of story telling, with mediocre writing, but I thought the writing in The Host was better.

I think that, if you value the filtering of emotion through a character, you'd do well to study what she does in Midnight Sun.
 

Steerpike

Felis amatus
Moderator
I think that, if you value the filtering of emotion through a character, you'd do well to study what she does in Midnight Sun.


I will do that. And I should point out that I'm not using mediocre as an insult. I thought it was firmly middle of the road. Certainly competent. Not stellar. I figure most of the criticism of Meyer on those grounds is professional jealousy or hipsterism.
 

BWFoster78

Myth Weaver
I will do that. And I should point out that I'm not using mediocre as an insult. I thought it was firmly middle of the road. Certainly competent. Not stellar. I figure most of the criticism of Meyer on those grounds is professional jealousy or hipsterism.

Understood.

To be honest, while I have reread Midnight Sun in the not to far distant past, I haven't reread Twilight in a while, so my recollection may be skewed. My memory, though, is that the book was extremely fun and easy to read.

I strive to create easy to read. Maybe it's me, but I don't think it's as easy as it looks.
 

T.Allen.Smith

Staff
Moderator
T.Allen,

Part of the problem, as with any discussion, is one of definition. Were we to agree on a definition of storytelling that we both could live with, however, I'm pretty sure we would still disagree on this subject.

There are, however, two separate questions that I see raised by your statement:

1. Is Storytelling ability an innate skill that only some possess?

2. Assuming the first to be true, if someone does have some level of Storytelling ability, can that ability be improved with learning?

Regarding Question 1: I just don't know. Are there people in the world who will just never grasp the fundamental concepts? I'd have to say, "Yes." Do there exist people in this world who are just innately gifted as Storytellers? Again, I'd have to say, "Yes." Instead of looking at the outliers, however, what about the average aspiring author? To what degree is Storytelling Nature vs Nurture? Beats the crap outta me.

Regarding Question 2: Unless I'm deluding myself, I have to say, "Yes." All I can really speak to is my own experience, which leads me to believe that the skill can be honed. I have a so much better understanding of how to shape a good story now than when I started.

We are simpatico. That's more or less my feelings as well. Though I'm not certain of any of my assumptions, that's where my experiences have lead.
 

Jabrosky

Banned
Ironically, I've always felt that infamously bad writing could do wonders for a book's sales. Considering all the unkind words I've heard about Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey despite their alleged popularity, I can only conclude that most of their sales went to people who wanted to see if they were nearly as bad as the hype claimed. That by itself can't explain how these particular books first snatched public attention as opposed to all the other bad writing out there, but it ought to explain how they went from noteworthy to notorious.

I'm not sure how much I buy the claim that certain people have more innate storytelling ability than others. I can accept that some people, by virtue of certain psychological quirks or talents, might have advantages when it comes to different areas of storytelling, but successful storytelling encompasses so many skills that I don't think many people are born with all of them at once. For instance, I personally have an easier time with visual imagination and basic spelling and grammatical skills than I do with in-depth characterization.
 

BWFoster78

Myth Weaver
successful storytelling encompasses so many skills that I don't think many people are born with all of them at once. For instance, I personally have an easier time with visual imagination and basic spelling and grammatical skills than I do with in-depth characterization.

Jabrosky,

I think that "storytelling," as defined by TAS, has little to do with visual imagination, spelling, grammar, or characterization. As near as I can figure, he means the term as something like:

The ability to come up with concepts that resonate with the reader and convey those concepts effectively through character and emotion.

I'm not sure that captures his views well or if I'm even representing his view at all, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't have anything to do with your definition.
 

Steerpike

Felis amatus
Moderator
Ironically, I've always felt that infamously bad writing could do wonders for a book's sales. Considering all the unkind words I've heard about Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey despite their alleged popularity, I can only conclude that most of their sales went to people who wanted to see if they were nearly as bad as the hype claimed. That by itself can't explain how these particular books first snatched public attention as opposed to all the other bad writing out there, but it ought to explain how they went from noteworthy to notorious.

I don't think that's accurate, at least not for Twilight. You have to consider that the book came from an unpublished author, completely unknown, then went to a bidding war with the big publishers and ended up getting Meyer a $3/4 of a million advance before a single book had even been printed. And then you add on top of that the fact that the publisher was absolutely right to give her that much. It just strains credulity to think that an unknown author who sent a terrible book to a publisher got that result (besides which, I've read it and the writing isn't bad).

With 50 Shades, I think it was already popular self-published before the publisher picked it up, otherwise I'm not sure it would ever have made it into a traditional publishing house. I haven't read that one, though.
 
Hi,

My thoughts are a little different. I think writing is a meritocracy to a certain extent. I don't see any truly terrible books making it to the best seller's list and most of them fall by the way side. That's not to say if you write a true literary masterpiece it will succeed. Only to say that there is a better chance.

And when you examine writing I do agree that the story telling is the most important part, and the rest follows. For me as a reader I want to be swept up in the story. I want to walk in the shoes of the hero, see the world he lives in, live in fear and wonder as his life story unfolds. I don't want to sit there and marvel at the competance and linguistic brilliance with which the prose is written. For me - and maybe this is part of why I am an indie - the craft side as in putting the words together in such a way that they make sense, merely has to achieve a standard such that when I'm reading I don't notice glaring spelling mistakes and typos all the time.

I'll forgive a lot for a good story. I won't forgive nearly so much for a technically well written piece of prose.

And lets be honest - I haven't done a survey here so I'm just shooting from the hip - if technical skill in writing prose were the most important thing, wouldn't more editors become hugely successful authors?

Cheers, Greg.
 
I'm coming in late to this conversation (which has been done here before numerous times). Actually, that's not quite true - the can storytelling be learned? debate has been done a million times but the meritocracy is a new-ish angle.

Briefly - my own take on the storytelling question is this: we are all born with a certain innate storytelling IQ but what you have can be educated and improved. Everyone's innate storytelling IQ, however, is different, both in magnitude and type. Einsteinian level storyteller IQs (eg, Tolkien, Heller, Orwell, Golding etc) will always succeed given a chance - and to that extent writing is a meritocracy if you regard superior storytelling IQ as merit.

The other side of the question is (for me) too hard to answer - no two people will completely agree on a definition of what constitutes good writing and there's no way of measuring it. Some would suggest sales is a measure but I'll deny that until my last breath.
 

taiwwa

Scribe
The only fantasy book I'm close to familiar with is JK Rowling's Harry Potter series.

So here's what I think in regards to her success...

1. There are hidden biases. Rowling herself was rejected by several publishers many times. Her name is abbreviated so it doesn't seem too feminine, but on first glance can seem like a man wrote it.

2. Her writing does appeal to a hidden zeitgeist. Harry Potter is basically about everyone's desire to attend an elite boarding school.

3. She has talent in describing magic in creative and inventive ways that are fun to read. This is her merit.
 

Devor

Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Moderator
Briefly - my own take on the storytelling question is this: we are all born with a certain innate storytelling IQ but what you have can be educated and improved. Everyone's innate storytelling IQ, however, is different, both in magnitude and type. Einsteinian level storyteller IQs (eg, Tolkien, Heller, Orwell, Golding etc) will always succeed given a chance - and to that extent writing is a meritocracy if you regard superior storytelling IQ as merit.

Let's see if we can get people talking about Storyteller's Quotient (SQ) all over the internet.
 
I'm coming in late to this conversation (which has been done here before numerous times). Actually, that's not quite true - the can storytelling be learned? debate has been done a million times but the meritocracy is a new-ish angle.

Briefly - my own take on the storytelling question is this: we are all born with a certain innate storytelling IQ but what you have can be educated and improved. Everyone's innate storytelling IQ, however, is different, both in magnitude and type. Einsteinian level storyteller IQs (eg, Tolkien, Heller, Orwell, Golding etc) will always succeed given a chance - and to that extent writing is a meritocracy if you regard superior storytelling IQ as merit.

The problem is this: someone with the innate skill of an Orwell or a Tolkien or a Heller will always succeed given a chance, but you can't tell whether someone is an Orwell or a Tolkien or a Heller until you've already given them a chance. And even then, history is littered with authors who wrote one really great book and then never got anywhere near that level of success again. So you really can't tell if they're one for the ages until... some ages have passed. ;)
 
What does a chance mean though? It basically means an opportunity to be taken seriously, whether by a major publisher or a substantial reading community.

It's also possible that an Einstein level writer can only produce one masterpiece. Maybe they slave away for years in the lonely garret to produce something amazing and then success changes their life and systems so much that they can't replicate what they did before...despite the brilliant capacity. Once you're writing to deadlines, everything changes.
 
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