Writing Priorities


Some thoughts by Kelly McCullough on one's priorities as a reader versus those as a writer.

 In summary, she lists seven categories (plot, prose, description, dialogue, character, world, and wit) and then ranks them according to her tastes as a consumer of fiction, then as an author of same. Her third list, that of a professional, was most interesting to me: I know that professional fiction writers have to make concessions for the sake of business, but beyond that her ranks in this group are based on common sense as well (i.e., your craftsmanship has to be decent, unless you're Dan Brown). 

 Not being a professional myself, I can't comment on the final grouping (though I suspect that studying it would help me in my own writing); however, here are my priority lists as a reader, and as a writer:


1. World
2. Prose
3. Dialogue
4. Character
5. Story/plot
6. Wit
7. Description


1. Character
2. World
3. Prose
4. Plot
5. Dialogue
6. Wit
7. Description

 As a consumer of fiction, I find that the setting alone can often redeem a story for me. I'm also very responsive to strong prose, regardless of individual style -- in fact, I seem to react better to very quirky, purple or disjointedly distinctive voices author voice (which also goes a long way toward explaining my taste in roleplaying games, and why independent titles like Polaris or Lacuna tickle me so). Especially if the author has a mythic bent, the prose and world can become intertwined (which also explains my love of Pratchett and Tom Holt).

 As an author, I need a strong sense of my setting (extremely detailed) or I feel lost; however, even that is fairly useless without a solid character. The top four items on that list describe the ones I struggle with most; once I have them fairly solidly, the dialogue, wit and description flow from there. I've noticed that I'm actually fairly lousy at technical descriptions, which is probably somewhat damning for a frequent writer of hard-SF; however, I can synthesize better description by working it into prose. Whether reading or writing, my imagination supplies the visual details, and I seem to extract those cues from the writing itself rather than literal descriptive paragraphs (which may be why some novels I should logically enjoy, given my tastes, fall flat because they're so hard to visualize). Plot is still a weak point for me: without a solid sense of who, where and how to word it, I seem to find it hard to confidently outline what happened...in this regard, I'm still firmly a novice. I wonder if there are any workshops I could attend.