Where is the story?

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.


Recently I read a novella, Becky Chambers’s A Prayer for the Crown-Shy. I actively disliked it. It has many glowing reviews on GoodReads, but it didn’t work for me. I decided to figure out why.

The narrative is superb, clean and lyrical, flowing like a quiet melody. The two protagonists are fascinating, definitely 3-dimentional. The details are rich and diverse. But the story – the most important aspect of any work of fiction – the STORY just isn’t there.    

To explain my reaction to this book, I need to tell you what it is about. The book summary sounds like an anecdote: a monk and a robot travel around the countryside while searching for the meaning of life. They can’t find any, because frankly, their lives have no meanings. They have no responsibilities and no purpose (beyond the above-mentioned search for the meaning of life). Nobody needs them, and they like it that way. Free and useless like tumbleweed, they roam aimlessly through the realm. They camp. They eat. They talk. They meet other people. The road stretches in front of them. Then the book ends. And no story manifests.

Every writer knows the standard story structure. The hero’s life is broken. He needs to achieve a certain goal to find a new status quo, but there are obstacles in his way. His struggles to overcome the obstacles comprise the gist of the tale. If he doesn’t succeed in his quest, disaster will strike. Those are all the necessary ingredients of a good story.

In the case of this book, the characters have no goals, and there are no obstacles in their way. They don’t struggle. Their lives aren’t broken. Nothing horrible will happen if they don’t find the meaning of life. They just stay on the road, chat endlessly, and contemplate the trees and the sky. Where is their story? I couldn’t see it. No wonder I didn’t like the book.    

What about you? Could you enjoy a book without a story? Did you enjoy this book? Tell me what you liked about it.

This entry was posted in Insecure Writer's Support Group, Olga Godim, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Where is the story?

  1. Sounds really boring, as in an average, boring life kind of boring.
    Remember the film World War Z? Brad Pitt’s character never changed, never grew, nothing – and that made the film really average for me.
    So yes, a story needs a lot more than fancy writing and good characters. It needs to go somewhere and the characters need to change along the way.

  2. It doesn’t sound like a book for me. Characters need to grow and yes, there does need to be a story…

  3. Sonia Dogra says:

    Oh my, sounds like me saying how would my boring life make for a story? I do know now what kind of story it would make!

  4. I also dislikes books like this – a STORY, and also most times a happy ending is what makes a book a book for me. With one exception – I once read a book so well written, that it was a pleasure to read it for the language alone. I never re-read it, and I never read more books like that one – I had totally forgotten about it. Now I have to search for it.

  5. It doesn’t sound like a book for me either. I need a book to have a good, fast-paced plot.

  6. spunkonastick says:

    Slice of life with no purpose sounds dull indeed.

  7. patgarcia says:

    This book sounds like a spin-off from the book, The Name of The Rose, by Umberto Eco, which was also turned into a movie, but The Name of The Rose had a story and I enjoyed seeing the movie. I don’t know whether I would like the book you mentioned if it does not have a story behind it.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

  8. denizb33 says:

    Ooh, now that’s fascinating, because I read her short prequel, A Psalm for the Wild-Built, and I liked it but I understand exactly what you mean — the story really didn’t seem to go anywhere. It made sense, in a way, because it was a prequel. I thought the follow-up novel would be different. But I wasn’t tempted to run out and buy it right away…

  9. Erika Beebe says:

    Um, I don’t think I would get into the book at all. I might skim it if the writing is graceful art, but sadly, I need a character to keep me going who’s struggling with something I can relate to. Happy IWSG DAY!

  10. J.S. Pailly says:

    I’ve read a few of Becky Chambers’ books, but not that one. I’d say she tends to write character portraits rather than actual stories. Her stuff’s interesting, but I have to agree it’s not going to appeal to everybody.

  11. Loni Townsend says:

    Yeah, stories without conflict get boring super fast. I’ve encountered a few of those while critiquing, and it gets tough. Admittedly, I think my first book suffers from a lack of tension, and I keep telling myself (10 years later) that I’ll go back and rewrite it to infuse more in. I’m crossing my fingers that book 2 won’t be so bad.

  12. emaginette says:

    Plotting recipes and tropes don’t entice me to buy a book. That said, I DO need two things.

    Tension throughout and something interesting happening to ensure I read on. With me, goals sometime get lost in the wash. I’m a mystery reader most of the time and when no one is searching for clues or a murderer, I don’t always see the an obvious storyline. Sometimes I enjoy the ride. Sometimes I put it down. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  13. cleemckenzie says:

    This sounds like an existentialist wrote it. You can go to sleep reading Sartre unless you’re keen on exploring the hunt for a meaning in life. I did that in college, so I’ve checked that off my To Do list. Thanks for the heads up on this one.

  14. Denise Covey says:

    Isn’t that interesting. I tend to get caught up in the writing and after a while I realize the story isn’t there. Do the same myself. But it is a good exercise to analyse why we don’t like what we read.

  15. Jemi Fraser says:

    I don’t think that would be a book I would enjoy either. I love when characters face themselves, make the change, and grow through the story’s obstacles

  16. yvettecarol says:

    Agh! That sounds terrible to me. What’s the point of reading it? I like to read and empathise with others going through the struggles of life!

  17. Jean Davis says:

    That sound like a book I would put down after chapter one. Interesting characters are a plus, but they need to have a story to work through or otherwise, what’s the point? Analyzing why the book didn’t work for you is a good way to learn from it. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  18. Damyanti Biswas says:

    Does not sound like a book I would enjoy reading. I like really fast-paced storylines.

  19. jlennidorner says:

    Ah, some fiction is like that. Not about the stakes. It’s closer to poetry. Not usually my cup of tea, either. But I can see why some people prefer something without any real conflict.

    “I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of.” —Joss Whedon

    J Lenni Dorner (he/him 👨🏽 or 🧑🏽 they/them) ~ Reference& Speculative Fiction Author, OperationAwesome6 Debut Author Interviewer, and Co-host of the #AtoZchallenge

  20. That would drive me nuts. I felt the same about Cackle, which others loved, though, so what do I know?

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