I absolutely love the Harry Potter series. I've read it 15 times and I never get tired of it. I wish I could live in those worlds. So I'm not coming from a spot of jealousy — at least I don't think I am — but either way, it's not relevant to my question.
My question is actually related to the writing within however. I'm only going to use the first book, Philosopher's Stone, as an example. All throughout I notice many examples of what professors, teachers, and editors often call weak writing.
1) The use of filter words such as — seemed as an example:
As he sat in the usual morning traffic jam, he couldn't help noticing that there seemed to be a lot of strangely dressed people about.
It seemed to be a silver cigarette lighter.
It seemed that Professor McGonagall had reached the point she was most anxious to discuss, the real reason she had been waiting on a cold, hard wall all day...
It seemed to be coming from a large metal tub in the sink.
All in all, there are 72 instances of seemed used in book one, most of which "seem," to be acting as a filter word. That's without addressing any of the other common filter words.
2) The extensive use of adverbs: There are too many examples to cite, and I personally like adverbs anyways! When there is enough plot, they don't slow down the story for me, but editors generally hate them.
3) The overuse of exclamation marks and ellipses: Once again, a faux pas when taking writing classes and studying literature — I don't personally mind them and I think in a children's book they convey meaning easily.
4) Writing in passive vs. active voice: He bent his great, shaggy head over Harry and gave him what must have been a very scratchy, whiskery kiss.
There are many other examples of this in "he was, she was type sentences.
5) Use of weak words like very: Harry found their way into the house, rolled up and hidden inside each of the two dozen eggs that their very confused milkman had handed Aunt Petunia through the living room window.
It was very cold outside the car.
He was in a very good mood.
6) Show don't tell:
For a famous place, it was very dark and shabby
He pushed his trolley around and stared at the barrier. It looked very solid.
There are countless examples for telling instead of showing, above in this email, as well as all throughout the book.
Obviously JK Rowling does more things well than she does poorly; the plot all throughout is incredible, the underlying story, the world she creates, her characters and her conflicts are excellent.
My question is: As writers should we be more focused on the story, than on "good," writing? By good I mean technically sound writing that editors, agents and teachers often ask for.
How much credence should we give to the general rules about what constitutes good and bad writing?
Have you ever watched an episode of Law & Order with a lawyer? Or a cop? Or CSI with a forensic technician? Or The Proposal with an editor? Or The West Wing with anyone who's ever worked in DC?
Mostly they scream at the TV. There is often throwing of objects, stomping, and mass consumption of liquor to ease the pain.
Those TV shows get so much wrong it's really painful to watch for some folks. I loved The American President the first two times I saw it. Then I paid attention and I can barely watch it now. (Although "I'll be in the Roosevelt Room giving Lewis oxygen" remains one of my favorite movie lines of all time.)
My point is this: you're a writer so you look at things with an expert writing eye. Most readers don't even come close to seeing what you see.
James Patterson will never win an award for beautiful sentences or complex plotting but by god the man makes more money writing books than I'll ever see (and is very generous to libraries with it I might add.) While he hasn't sold more books than God, I think he might be second on the list.
We have this discussion in the office a LOT. If something is compelling but not great writing, do we take it on, hoping it will sell?
JK Rowling didn't sell despite "weak writing." I doubt most of her readers even noticed. She sold because she had, as you point out: incredible plot, compelling story, an enticing strange world, and characters we couldn't get enough of. Give me that, and I'll spot you how ever many extra verys and seems you've got in your ms.