Last month, Nathan Bransford had an interesting blog post on writing vs. storytelling. He asked his readers what they thought was more important to the success of a story, and many people voiced their opinions. Including me.
I’ve had some time to think on this, and I’ve expanded my opinion a bit. I think the importance of writing vs. storytelling depends on your audience.
For a non-writer, I can see this depending on personal preference. Some people are more forgiving of adverbs or questionable grammar when the story has a break-neck pace with lots of conflict. Those people would probably say storytelling is more important. Others get lost in poor writing and it interferes with their enjoyment of the story. Those people would probably say that writing is more important. One could make a compelling case for each, depending on your personal preference.
But for writers, it’s different. I think writing and storytelling are equally important. A good writer needs the skills that find the best parts of a story and weave them together such that the reader can’t tear himself away. He also needs the skills to put it on the page such that the reader can connect to everything and everyone, and that requires good writing. I don't see how it's possible for one to be more important that the other.
That brings us to a similar topic: balance.
There is so much that goes into writing a book. Characters, story arc, subplots, tension, dialog, voice, transitions, pacing, description, setting, the list goes on. All of these pieces are equally important. You can’t have truly believable characters without great dialog, a great plot without tension, a vivid setting without appropriate description, a flowing story arc without smooth transitions, etc.
It stands to reason that storytelling and good writing are also equally important. Good writing means nothing if the story is all over the place, and a great story will fall flat if the writing is loaded with purple prose, adverbs, poor grammar, etc. It’s possible to have amazing storytelling and writing that is good enough, and that will likely be a success. It’s also possible to have fantastic writing and a story that’s good, though I think that’s less likely to be a success. But there is still a certain level of quality needed on both sides for your story to work.
I think the truly amazing stories are the ones that manage to balance everything—great storytelling, fantastic writing, life-like characters, gripping plot and pacing, vivid setting, etc—and still create a strong connection to the reader. This is really hard to do, and I always end up with a healthy respect for any author who can do this. :)