My recent reading–some good, some bad–has made me think more about this. It occurs to me that there are two separate parts of the craft of writing.
One part is unquestionably the writing itself, learning the techniques of making our stories come alive for readers. This encompasses most of the “rules” you’ll run into in books and critiques. Show vs. Tell (and both have their place), dialog tags and beats, avoiding adverbs, sticking to a single point of view at a time. There are whole books written just on these techniques. They’re the mechanics of how to get your story out, but they are not the story.
Of course, we all aspire to write eloquently. But it is possible to write competently and tell a rousing story. Some of these even become best sellers. And it is also possible to write well and not be able to tell a story. All the mastery of technique in the world is wasted without a good story.
Telling a story is also a craft. There are more things to learn, here–foreshadowing, plotting, pacing, characterization, character arcs, and weaving in subplots. And pitfalls to learn to avoid, like deus ex machina endings and withholding. Even a good story can be ruined by clumsy handling. I have, unfortunately, read a couple of those lately.
A really, really good writer has both sets of tools at their disposal–a mastery of the are of telling a story and the techniques to make the story come to life seamlessly. Sometimes that means an invisible narrator, who just keeps out of the way as the story unfolds. Sometimes it means a distinctive voice that draws the reader in. But neither one will work if the story isn’t right in the first place.
Anyway, that’s my opinion.