A ton. I honestly don't understand people who say things like "I only care about the story, not the writing." It's like saying "I only care about the plot of movies, not the acting" "I like comics with cool characters, I don't care how poorly they are drawn." I don't get it.
Bad acting takes me out of a movie. Bad prose takes me out of a book. (Unless I'm just trying to laugh at some horrible B movie or crazy trash book).
Some of my favorite SF/F writers, all of whom write great prose:
Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Margaret Atwood, Samuel Deleany, Gene Wolfe, Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Julio Cortazar, Borges, Kelly Link, Jeff VanderMeer.
For me, it means a lot.
I LOVE beautiful writing. I'm a huge fan of the classics, and Jack Kerouac is my favorite author (if you've only read On the Road, you aren't allowed to judge. He has some really beautiful novels).
As for fantasy: A couple years ago I became obsessed with the Kingkiller Chronicle. It has everything: great storytelling, great new concepts, great new characters, and more than "reasonably readable" prose---it's beautiful. I am a fan for life.
Basically, for me, it is ALL important. However, I'm sure you can make a living focusing on one or two and still be a successful writer. Cline wrote "Ready Player One" which is great, but only has great story telling and great new concepts. Character and prose are lacking but he's a fucking millionaire with a movie coming out in a couple months. Just depends on what you want out of your writing.
This is sort of a non-question. "Great characters" are only great because the style of the prose which captures them is great. A great narrative is only as great as the prose it is expressed with (otherwise we may as well just scrap novels and read fiction as a series of functional bullet-points). And, in the same vein a "concept" can only be as "great" as its expression.
So in other words, prose style is everything. I don't really see how you can begin to separate it.
Margaret Atwood does all those things well. Result? She's Margaret f--king Atwood. That's how you get to be Margaret f--king Atwood. There are many many many people who make a living out there writing books whore are not, and do not compare to, Margaret f**king Atwood. If you sit down to write your first novel and are trying to be Margaret f--king Atwood, you will probably end up with a pretentious mess.
What I'm saying that your audience is not going to be people who only read Margaret f--king Atwood. So just keep it in your own voice and keep writing. I can't tell you it will be good, because I haven't read your work, but I expect it would be better than anything you try to write as if you were Margaret f--king Atwood because you are not, and in case I wasn't clear: You do not need to be Margaret f--king Atwood to write a decent book that people will read.
Sounds like you're on your first draft, so just get the ideas down and worry about style later.
I appreciate good prose, but pacing is significantly more important, especially if you are attempting humor.
Personally I have different expectations for writing style based on the specific genre. Relatively high expectations for hard science fiction, and relatively low expectations for urban fantasy, with the other sub-genres filling the continuum between.
A book with good storytelling (plot-driven) and good characterization but unexciting prose is perfectly acceptable for me, but noticeably poor prose will definitely take away from the experience. On the other hand, I get the feeling this is something authors tend to obsess over much more than readers.
Depends on the book. For clarity, the sci-fi authors I read are Vonnegut, Philip K Dick, Burroughs, Ballard and Pynchon. Outside of Vonnegut, I'd say a lot of the prose for these authors is very subjective as to whether or not you'd enjoy it. The weakest author I'd say between all of these is Philip K Dick, mainly because his prose isn't that imaginative and middle of the road. But with him I'd say he's still worth reading because of the ideas he in his work. While he may not be a great author in the vein of Fitzgerald or Melville, he's a creative writer. And I think judging the quality of certain books by a rigid sent of rules is a bit reductions. Yes, prose is important in literature, but it isn't the only thing that matters in it, and judging a worth only by those standards may have you skipping over some great works.
Beautiful prose is the distinction between books I read and return to the library, versus books I read then buy for my collection. I can remember the books with beautiful prose better, I think because I read slower to savor the words and the images evoked are more vivid. Plenty of fine books out there with acceptable storytelling, but a fine story with beautiful prose is a rare pleasure (e.g., Gene Wolfe, Tad Williams). If you can do it by putting in more effort, then that's terrific and you should! Seems some out there try to and fall flat :-/
Oh, gosh yes. I'll read a book with great storytelling and only competent, passable prose... but I never re-read those. In fantasy I consider Brandon Sanderson one of those authors. I've never read something by him that truly awed me with his depth of prose or meaningful ideas. But he's certainly a fun author. He knows what elements go into a good story, and he knows how to use those elements as good as just about anybody on the market now.
Some authors within the fantasy genre I highly recommend for anybody looking for exceptional prose: Tolkien, Patricia McKillip, Pat Rothfuss, Robert Jordan. Jordan is probably the least exceptional on the list, but he has frequent moments of greatness that make me think he belongs on the list.
Back to OP: yes, work on your prose and keep at it. No it isn't strictly necessary, but what's the point of being a writer if you're not trying to improve your craft? Here's a quote from Orson Scott Card from the prologue of Ender's Game which has been monumental in keeping me motivated when my own writing feels like a cheesy failure.
***“You see, the work of a storyteller doesn’t get any easier the more experience we get, because once we’ve learned how to do something, we can’t get excited about doing exactly the same thing again – or at least most of us can’t. We keep wanting to reach for the story that is too hard for us to tell – and then make ourselves learn how to tell it… the danger that keeps me just a little frightened with every book I write, however, is that I’ll overreach myself once too often and try to write a story that I’m just plain not talented or skilled enough to write. That’s the dilemma every storyteller faces. It is painful to fail. But it is far sadder when a storyteller stops wanting to try.”*** – Orson Scott Card
For me it's the least important part. As long as the proses convey what the story is trying to say decently and without much confusion or awkwardness then it doesn't matter in the slightest.
By far the very best authors to me have been ones who have strong stories with the most straightforward and basic prose. Jack London is a prime example of this. I read White Fang when I was 5 years old and reading it now at 28 I see just how basic and simple his words are. He didn't need flowery writing or these long-winded explanations to get me to be emotionally invested. He also didn't need those things to prove to me as an adult that he was making serious parallels to life that didn't involve anything to do with the story he was telling. He made me cry as a child and he put me into deep thought as an adult without words that I needed to look up.
The simple answer is yes, I'd buy it. When I read the first chapter of a book to see if it's worth my money I'm looking for those things you mentioned but prose I believe is the least among them for myself personally.
Let's flip that. In contemporary literary fiction, can a book have great prose but limited plot and no new concepts and still find an audience?
Each genre has characteristics that define it, everything else is optional. But optional does not mean unimportant. SF does not require great prose. *The Three Body Problem* and its sequels are some of the best SF novels in recent years, but the prose is merely adequate. Everything else makes up for it. But for many readers, that prose was a turn-off. And when the prose is great (Gene Wolfe), it's a huge plus.
So to answer your question, yes, people would buy it. But with great prose on top of everything else more people will read it, more will talk about it, more will recommend it.
What you describe is basically as good as it gets with genre fiction, and that is massively popular both here and in general. There are arguably a couple of fantasy writers whose prose is better than reasonably readable... But not by much. So if you have got all that then you can surely be successful. Although if you are going for Literary Fiction then having only readable prose might make it a bit tough.
I require really strong prose, but I wouldn't say "beautiful" prose. For me, the best writing is effortlessly unobtrusive, there to serve the plot and the characters in the most effective way possible. If I've noticed how beautiful a particular line is, it's already failed the story in that I've been pulled out of it to notice the line. I would argue that the kind of effortless functionality I look for is actually much harder to achieve than beautiful or lyrical prose.
It depends, really. Sometimes I prefer their prose, storytelling some and characters some.
Like Thomas Pynchon, his story are really overwhelming, even his shorter works and requires multiple read to understand it. But, his usage of prose really stands out for me. And yes, some of his characters are also amusing.