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Thread: Style over Story

  1. #21
    WF Veteran Tettsuo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Terry D View Post
    I always considered it my job as a writer to deliver both. Anyone can build a box and put interesting stuff inside, but, when as much work goes into the box as its contents, then you have treasure.
    I agree. Good style and prose can certainly elevate a story, as bad style and prose can detract from one.
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  2. #22
    It's kind of a weird thing to separate though isn't it because, technically, if the writer writes so that the reader perceives a great story than the prose is 'great' -- insofar as it did it's job.

    If it wasn't 'great' then, presumably, it would have negatively impacted the story?

    But 'great' is relative here. Is Dan Brown's style 'great' in the Da Vinci Code? Not if you compare a page of it in isolation to, say, Fitzgerald. Not if we nitpick each clumsy line...no, it's not 'great' prose in that respect. But it's obviously good enough to tell his ​story effectively and sell millions. So, I guess, who cares?

  3. #23
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    James Joyce came to mind. Kerouac.

    A lot of absurdist, satirists and other 'quirky' writers often don't have much of a real plot but essentially dig into observational stuff, often humorous, which I suppose counts as style. It certainly often isn't substance, at least not in the sense of a 'novel'. Martin Amis, Will Self, Kurt Vonnegut, some of Tom Wolfe's stuff, Hunter S. Thompson. These are writers who definitely have 'a style' and I would say are arguably better known for that than their storytelling. Heck, Hemingway would probably fall into that category too. Fitzgerald might, but I never really considered him as having a particularly unique style so much as a polished one. But, I dunno.

    I want to emphasize, I don't think any of these writers are lacking in their ability to carry a narrative (other than Amis, but that's personal taste, I just can't stand the man), only that it's mostly the method of delivery that makes them truly memorable.



    Not sure what you're referring to regarding bitterness, but...

    I do think it's a bit of an unfair cliché that literary writing generally is boring or contains pointless plots. I don't think it's true, it's just that the plot is sometimes very secondary, and that's okay because character-based novels is a thing. We can obviously debate individual cases, there are some very stodgy lit fic books for sure, but I would disagree that a lot of them are truly boring so much as challenging.

    For all the waxing on how entertaining genre fiction is, literary fiction can and often is just as adrenal and often has the benefit of added depth, of a unique 'touch'. Do you like your boundaries pushed? What are your boundaries? The answer to that question may determine at least one thing that makes literary fiction interesting. Boundaries tend to get set and re-set in books termed 'literary'. They can in genre, but it's less of a requisite. Literary books are supposed to land heavy.

    In literary fiction, I can read novels about women who watched their husband's throw themselves over Niagara Falls and have to deal with the emotional consequences of that ('The Falls' by Joyce Carol Oates), incestuous love affairs between brothers and sisters left alone in a house after their mother dies and having to deal with the emotional consequences of that ('The Cement Garden' by Ian McEwan), the emotional torment of pedophiles ('Lolita' by Nabokov), sexual politics in dystopias ('The Handmaid's Tale' by Atwood), 9/11 ('Incredibly Loud...' by Foer) and so on. Does Toni Morrison write dull books? Does Cormac McCarthy? I don't think so. In some ways, their books are no different than genre fiction in terms of dynamism, except that they go an extra measure with regard to style and depth-through-style. It's a sort of layer-of-icing.

    I know these are only random examples and not something to judge an entire genre by (as I expressed in a prior thread, we should not generalize based on extremes...) but I can only write so much in a post! The only real point I want to make in defense of literary fiction is there are probably just as many boring literary fiction books as there are genre fiction books. Therefore, I suggest the only real difference is the good literary fiction books may appear boring at first by virtue of sometimes being more strenuous, harder work, than genre novels...and that maybe creates the perception you illustrate.
    Look, that's really great, Luckyscars. But I really should be writing, not talking about other people writing. It was my mistake to open such a can of worms about literary fiction. Sorry.

  4. #24
    Member TheManx's Avatar
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    Well, for my reading, it's mostly about degrees of both -- the needle moving in either direction within some acceptable range. But when I pick up a book and the writing isn't up to my personal standard -- if it's mostly devoid of any style that interests me -- I probably won't bother reading enough of it to evaluate the story. Too many books out there that will satisfy my need for both. I suppose I try to write for people who have similar standards...

  5. #25
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    If it is not some arid historical text, or Orwell...I do like to feel embraced, possibly bathed, in the arms of a master scribe.

    I'm here comparing 'Love In The Time of Cholera' which I stole from the in-laws, very very nourishing ...to some Mars trilogy I purchased from Amazon...which is crap I gave it to my wife, proper captain Spock shit, worse than 'Moon Cruel Mistress.'

    My preference is for comedy, or the random and powerful brain pulsating on the page. Nothing worse than a well-crafted book for merchandising porpoises, and also possibly written by a Tolkien type person/ heavy metal music, ghastly.

  6. #26
    I am liking the defense of literary fiction I am seeing here, if only because it underscores the critical importance of well-fleshed, fully-realized characters. I do not see any reason why speculative fiction (which in my opinion, is probably the most immediately transcendental of the two) cannot possess such characteristics. However, the cold hard reality is that it often doesn't. The genre-elements end up becoming a kind of cancerous growth on the text, apparently preventing any real humanity from entering the story. I've picked up quite a few random paperbacks at this point; very few of them end up being any good (despite the fact that they allegedly sold well upon release.) The reason is obvious: the characters are flat. Cardboard. I sit there groaning because it feels humanity itself is being mocked by such dry caricature. Battlefield Earth, I'm specifically looking at you.

    I respect authors who are so desperately in love with genre-elements that they see no reason to consider anything but genre when writing; however, in the hands of a novice it often ends in some incredibly lame prose. Genre is best when paired with truly powerful prose and characterization, prose being the lens through which the reader views the element.
    Nail it to the Cross

  7. #27
    I'm of the opinion that no good books get written when a writer sits down and consciously decides 'this is just genre fiction'.

    Obviously, genres exist and genre factors in with subject matter, but it seems to me all good books should contain an aspiration to be 'literary fiction', in the sense that the things that literary fiction is defined by are, for the most part, simply the hallmarks of good writing anyway.

    Something as basic as 'character before plot' is part of what makes literary fiction literary fiction...but also, think about it this way: If you go into a project with the aspiration to write 'character before plot' then chances are you will end up with better characters than if you go in with the idea that 'characters don't matter as much as plot'. While, funnily enough, your plot will likely end up just as good, if not better, than if you consciously decide to put 'plot before character'.

    This is because thinking about plot isn't terribly important, at the end of the day. Yeah, a plot needs to make sense and carry interest, but so long as you have fleshed-out, interesting characters, 99% of the time a pretty good plot will come about organically, simply by virtue of having those characters move. By 'knowing' them.

    This should not be confused with an argument that literary fiction is better -- for the zillionth time, it isn't -- nor an argument that everybody should write literary fiction -- that's crazy. It is simply an acknowledgement that what literary fiction tends to prioritize, tends to value, tends to be good stuff to focus on in genre fiction as well.

    The best horror, science fiction, etc. books tend to be those that incorporate at least some literary fiction approaches, if not a recognizably 'literary' style.

  8. #28
    WF Veteran Tettsuo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    If you go into a project with the aspiration to write 'character before plot' then chances are you will end up with better characters than if you go in with the idea that 'characters don't matter as much as plot'. While, funnily enough, your plot will likely end up just as good, if not better, than if you consciously decide to put 'plot before character'.

    This is because thinking about plot isn't terribly important, at the end of the day. Yeah, a plot needs to make sense and carry interest, but so long as you have fleshed-out, interesting characters, 99% of the time a pretty good plot will come about organically, simply by virtue of having those characters move. By 'knowing' them.
    How curious.

    I've never focused on characters until I've gotten down the plot, theme and end goal. Once those things are nailed down, the characters are then motivated to move towards the pre-established goal. The character's "experiences" are generated with the idea that they will most assuredly choose to take all the turns necessary to fulfill the plan. Even if the story takes a turn, I know what will force the character to move towards the end.

    So yeah, plot before character for me, and I still end up with great characters (as per the reviews I've received).

    So many different viewpoints on how to get from point a to b. Writers are indeed a curious bunch.
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  9. #29
    Member TheManx's Avatar
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    RoI've never really separated character and story. One comes into my head directly on the heels of the other -- and they mostly evolve at the same time...
    Last edited by TheManx; October 9th, 2020 at 08:27 PM.

  10. #30
    Quote Originally Posted by TheManx View Post
    I've never really separated character and story. One comes into my head directly on the heals of the other -- and they mostly evolve at the same time...
    Mmm, yeah I think we got a bit sidetracked from the intention of the OP. 'Story' isn't really the right word for a question of either/or. 'Plot' is. Character and plot are different but the story is *everything* working cumulatively. Really this a question of style over substance with 'substance' being what is said and 'style' being the way it is said.

    There are overlaps that make it a bit more complicated, though. For instance 'Romeo & Juliet' is similar to plot and character to 'West Side Story' but the style of how each is written is so radically different that they feel like different characters, and therefore different stories, despite having (with a couple of differences) the same general plot.

    People tend to use 'plot' and 'story' interchangeably a lot in conversation, which makes some sense, but I think in a writing discussion it's important to separate the two as they are vastly different. Story matters a ton always, plot can be far less important (hence mentioning literary fiction).

    Usually good characters make good plot simply through an organic process, but not always. I have read The Great Gatsby several times and would still have difficulty describing the plot in exact detail because it's not all that important nor, frankly, that good. American Psycho is another example.

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