Good Writer vs. Good Storyteller: A Fantasy Rant

Lady SylvannasI’m still working on finishing up my next book, so today I’m just going to post an observation that I’ve had while reading fantasy novels.  There is a HUGE difference between a good writer and a good storyteller.  Unfortunately, most fantasy authors that I’ve come across are good storytellers but absolutely terrible writers.  Robert Jordan, I mean you.  Couldn’t get through your novels because I couldn’t get past you mentioning Perrin’s yellow eyes every other paragraph.  Yeah, he has yellow eyes.  Yes, we know.  Yes, you told us already.  Really?  Yellow eyes AGAIN?  And Terry Goodkind, I expected more.  My friends told me about your story, which was fantastic, but your books read like bad fanfiction.  J.K. Rowling?  Mediocre writing which gets better in the later books, but storytelling that’s good enough to make me look past it.  And Anne Rice–very good writer, but when I picked up your Sleeping Beauty book in the sci-fi/fantasy section, I didn’t realize that it was really BDSM erotica.  Granted, I’m pretty open-minded, and it was well-written, but I cannot make myself unread the old queen on younger princess action.  *shudders*

I have discovered a number of authors that are pretty decent as far as fantasy goes though.  Charles de Lint’s urban fantasy is quite awesome.  Robin McKinley is always a good choice for the fairy tales retold.  Jacqueline Carey’s books are nice if you’re open-minded (reviews coming later), and Anne Bishop is a bit traumatizing but not bad, despite the use of demon names for main characters to make the story sound way darker than it is.  C.S. Lewis is fun if you ignore the fact that everything is a religious metaphor–not that I mind religious metaphors, but it can get preachy.  Phillip Pullman is fantastic; he did some good historical fiction as well.  Garth Nix, Elizabeth Kostova, Saint-Exupery–grats on a job well done.  Such authors make reading fantasy worthwhile.

17 thoughts on “Good Writer vs. Good Storyteller: A Fantasy Rant

  1. this is exactly why i stopped even trying to read fantasy years ago. i’m just going to come to you now for all of my fantasy novel recommendations.

  2. I’m just rediscovering fantasy, and I’m finding the same thing. Some of it’s so badly written that even if I think the concept of the book is really original, I struggle to make myself read the whole book. I have to try some of Pullman’s books! Can’t believe I haven’t read them yet.

    1. yep, Pullman is pretty awesome. that kid that wrote Eragon though totally sucks. neither a good storyteller or a good writer. it still baffles my mind that he was able to get published.

  3. Read the Hyperion Cantos.

    Portions of C.S. Lewis are mathematical metaphors since he was a mathematician.

  4. Thumbs up to the last four you mention — Nix, St. Exupery, Pullman, and Kostova! Also glad to hear someone else didn’t like Eragon. I hear Robin Hobb is great and looking forward to reading something by her. Loved Game of Thrones (an example maybe of better storytelling than writing?) and right now I’m finally reading Wizard of Earthsea by LeGuin. I’m finding her writing to be overwhelming the story at the moment, but I’m just getting started. Interesting post!

    1. I’m still in the process of reading Game of Thrones; my boyfriend borrowed my copy so I’m waiting till he finishes it. I need to read it soon because I can’t even go to the bar anymore without hearing spoilers.

    2. yeah, i mean, for a kid author, Eragon wasn’t bad, but if I could train a monkey to write a poem it would still probably suck. books have no standards anymore. they’ve degenerated just like every other form of communication and entertainment. it makes me sad. i will go wallow in a pile of literature now.

      1. Haha, wallowing in a pile of literature sounds enjoyable. I sometimes wonder if maybe it isn’t even that books have no standards, but that people are too lazy to revise their work and speak with good editors. When I get too frustrated with current stuff, I go on Dostoevsky binges.

        1. i also think that people just don’t care if they read crap though. as long as it sells, the publishing company doesn’t care if it’s a staggering work of genius or a cliche ridden piece of filth.

  5. I start to think that there is “low” and “high” fantasy. I shy away from books that are badly written and somehow managed to not pick them but I do not read such a lot of fantasy. I wonder whether this bad writing keeps away potential readers. I like Marion Zimmer Bradley, Patricia A. McKillip, Charles de Lint, Neil Gaiman and a few others. I thought that Judith Marillier also wrote well. I read a recommendation today for The Lies of Locke Lamora which seesm to be very well written too.

    1. I think it does keep some readers away, and reinforces stereotypes about the kind of people that read fantasy, unfortunately. A lot of people don’t take fantasy seriously as a genre, and I would imagine that bad writing has a lot to do with it.

      1. i actually wanted to apply to the creative writing department when I was doing my undergrad, and they told me i had better not submit any science fiction or fantasy, so i told them to shove it.

        1. Oh wow. See, I love sci-fi and fantasy if it’s well-written; there are just so many directions one can go with it. Then again, I’m also a huge nerd, lol.

  6. Terry Goodkind is the recipient of a lot of hate among my friends. We call him The Tool. The Tool wrote another book, you going to read it? Maybe, once the taste of the Tool’s last book is out of my mouth.

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