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Style over Story (1 Viewer)

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Tettsuo

WF Veterans
I can't think of any books where the style of the book was more important than the story. Maybe it's because tend to read genre fiction instead of literary?

Anyway, when I was in an offline writing group, I noticed that a peculiar trend. The writers tended to favor "fancy" prose, even with the story made little to no sense. So, after they'd lavish the writers with praise, I'd sometimes find myself feeling like an a**hole when I'd address the weak storyline.

My point, is this something that writers prefer discussing when critiquing a piece? Is the style more important than the story contents? In my head, I see the story as FAR more important that a few ill-placed words.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
Depends on the genre. Also depends on what sort of story it is. Because like you said genre fiction depends less on description. Everyone has a unique style which may lean to more character, plot, or descriptive. I think the person's personality plays a very big part. What has worked for them and what they enjoy. I try to respect the differences in personality in the critique. You have to work with what the person wrote. It may have a unique style in this sense.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
Writing style-focused prose is not the same as writing purple prose. Plenty of writers known for their style are not 'purple' at all.

There's a market for style, however it's tiny compared to the market for story. There's a reason it's called a STORYbook, right? Style tends to be a fixation of writers (who are also readers!) and a small collection of art farts.

Your average reader only cares about style to the extent it either (1) Adds to the story or (2) Doesn't detract from the story. Style can add to the story, for sure. In fact, most truly great books do have great style as well and the great style elevates a good story to a great one -- this is broadly the case in literary fiction. Otherwise, the option is a workmanlike style that doesn't detract from the story, that 'carries' the prose competently while focusing on what is actually happening on the mental screen -- as in the case of most genre fiction.
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
Writing style-focused prose is not the same as writing purple prose. Plenty of writers known for their style are not 'purple' at all.

There's a market for style, however it's tiny compared to the market for story. There's a reason it's called a STORYbook, right? Style tends to be a fixation of writers (who are also readers!) and a small collection of art farts.

Your average reader only cares about style to the extent it either (1) Adds to the story or (2) Doesn't detract from the story. Style can add to the story, for sure. In fact, most truly great books do have great style as well and the great style elevates a good story to a great one -- this is broadly the case in literary fiction. Otherwise, the option is a workmanlike style that doesn't detract from the story, that 'carries' the prose competently while focusing on what is actually happening on the mental screen -- as in the case of most genre fiction.

Sometimes I get on board with a genre train. If one day, I think, "fuck yeah, I want to read about cyborgs. That sounds awesome!" I know I'm not also going to get sparkly prose (unfortunately).

If I want the "best" of writing craft, I read classic literary stories, for example, even though I know for a fact the actual plots are going to be uninteresting/pointless (in my opinion) a majority of the time.

Usually, when I'm in the mood for reading for pleasure or improvement as a writer, I go with option B.

I think everyone should aspire to greatness.

I'm seeing a lot of bitterness in this thread, as if it's to be taken for granted that someone among us will never write a "great" story.
 

LCLee

Financial Supporter
I try to keep it simple, causing the reviewers to ask for more, but never less. I will stop reading a book if the picture is filled with redundancies like—the heat from the bright white sun…
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
I can't think of any books where the style of the book was more important than the story. Maybe it's because tend to read genre fiction instead of literary?

Anyway, when I was in an offline writing group, I noticed that a peculiar trend. The writers tended to favor "fancy" prose, even with the story made little to no sense. So, after they'd lavish the writers with praise, I'd sometimes find myself feeling like an a**hole when I'd address the weak storyline.

My point, is this something that writers prefer discussing when critiquing a piece? Is the style more important than the story contents? In my head, I see the story as FAR more important that a few ill-placed words.

I'm pretty sure Gravity's Rainbow fits this category; I could make neither head nor tail of that shit. Other times, I look no further than my own work. Many's the time I've been told my style carries the load where plot fails miserably.
 

Turnbull

Senior Member
Story is always more important, but so long as the style isn't confusing, it can be fun in fiction. In nonfiction, I have no tolerance for it. Unfortunately, the history book I just bought is written by a guy who thinks he's writing a novel, so the style is just the worst. He keeps using unnecessary words -- you know, how you have to subtract words sometimes to keep from being too expository -- and he keeps writing the historical figures as though he could read their minds. It's one thing if a person writes down their feelings in a diary, but if they don't, a nonfiction writer should never write things like "he felt enthusiastic at first, before the facts really settled in." Uh no. A fiction writer can write a character's thoughts because they made the character and know what it's thinking. Real people? Big nope.
 

-xXx-

Financial Supporter
Sometimes I get on board with a genre train. If one day, I think, "fuck yeah, I want to read about cyborgs. That sounds awesome!" I know I'm not also going to get sparkly prose (unfortunately).

If I want the "best" of writing craft, I read classic literary stories, for example, even though I know for a fact the actual plots are going to be uninteresting/pointless (in my opinion) a majority of the time.

Usually, when I'm in the mood for reading for pleasure or improvement as a writer, I go with option B.

I think everyone should aspire to greatness.


I'm seeing a lot of bitterness in this thread, as if it's to be taken for granted that someone among us will never write a "great" story.

um.
you rang?

lots of phoaks walked away from House of Leaves.
ergotic literature.
it's a thing.
*be well*
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
I'm pretty sure Gravity's Rainbow fits this category; I could make neither head nor tail of that shit. Other times, I look no further than my own work. Many's the time I've been told my style carries the load where plot fails miserably.

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.

Sometimes I get on board with a genre train. If one day, I think, "fuck yeah, I want to read about cyborgs. That sounds awesome!" I know I'm not also going to get sparkly prose (unfortunately).

If I want the "best" of writing craft, I read classic literary stories, for example, even though I know for a fact the actual plots are going to be uninteresting/pointless (in my opinion) a majority of the time.

Usually, when I'm in the mood for reading for pleasure or improvement as a writer, I go with option B.

I think everyone should aspire to greatness.

I'm seeing a lot of bitterness in this thread, as if it's to be taken for granted that someone among us will never write a "great" story.

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.
 

BornForBurning

Senior Member
Anyway, when I was in an offline writing group, I noticed that a peculiar trend. The writers tended to favor "fancy" prose, even with the story made little to no sense. So, after they'd lavish the writers with praise, I'd sometimes find myself feeling like an a**hole when I'd address the weak storyline.
Man, I'd love to see an example of the pieces you are looking at. I have a fascination with the highly specific tastes generated in walled-garden-type artistic enclaves.

I've always felt that story is bones. Everything else--style, characters, whatever--that's your muscle, fat, organ systems. The stuff that makes a novel live and breath. But without plot, everything collapses into senseless idiocy.
 

Matchu

Senior Member
Whatever detractors of 'style' have to say on the matter, I am sure we might all agree, in the defence of style, at the ghastliness of the 'was honks' down the page, the 'glossy' writing that sets my teeth on edge:

Erica waaz a....and she and a bunch of friends waaz in, and he waaz, and waaz waaz waaz...on a waaz

...

Right, damage done, I'm off to build barricades. Cheerio.
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
Whatever detractors of 'style' have to say on the matter, I am sure we might all agree, in the defence of style, at the ghastliness of the 'was honks' down the page, the 'glossy' writing that sets my teeth on edge:

Erica waaz a....and she and a bunch of friends waaz in, and he waaz, and waaz waaz waaz...on a waaz

...

Right, damage done, I'm off to build barricades. Cheerio.

I like a good "rise of the hads"; "Bob thumped the button to end the world. That button had been made in a factory, that factory had been built by workers, and those workers had once been zygotes, which is what this story is now clearly about."

Don't get me started on comma-splices though, they're a very personal pet peeve. I scrub them out when I can, they're not proper grammar.
 

Matchu

Senior Member
Probably I belong on registry for 'comma splice' and the semi-colon crimes. Certainly the prosecutors read me wrong on the issue being a first nation resident, and all that...with O levels.

As for 'had,' I am sorry, I simply shall not engage with members of 'had' army. I despise 'had.' One 'had' enough for anybody, one shared between the group is better, imopinon. So disappointed to find 'had' cult on this esteemed forum.
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
Sometimes I get on board with a genre train. If one day, I think, "fuck yeah, I want to read about cyborgs. That sounds awesome!" I know I'm not also going to get sparkly prose (unfortunately).

If I want the "best" of writing craft, I read classic literary stories, for example, even though I know for a fact the actual plots are going to be uninteresting/pointless (in my opinion) a majority of the time.

Usually, when I'm in the mood for reading for pleasure or improvement as a writer, I go with option B.

I think everyone should aspire to greatness.

I'm seeing a lot of bitterness in this thread, as if it's to be taken for granted that someone among us will never write a "great" story.

I'm definitely different from you. I'm much prefer a great story with decent prose than a decent story with great prose. Mastering storytelling is by far my first goal. The overall goal of course is to have both in the great category, but I want to tell a great story more than anything else. Those are the things that inspired me to write in the first place, not how well someone could turn a phrase.


And what's this bitterness you're talking about? I'm seeing a lot of interesting perspectives, not bitterness.
 

Terry D

Retired Supervisor
I can't think of any books where the style of the book was more important than the story. Maybe it's because tend to read genre fiction instead of literary?

Anyway, when I was in an offline writing group, I noticed that a peculiar trend. The writers tended to favor "fancy" prose, even with the story made little to no sense. So, after they'd lavish the writers with praise, I'd sometimes find myself feeling like an a**hole when I'd address the weak storyline.

My point, is this something that writers prefer discussing when critiquing a piece? Is the style more important than the story contents? In my head, I see the story as FAR more important that a few ill-placed words.

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.
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
Writing style-focused prose is not the same as writing purple prose. Plenty of writers known for their style are not 'purple' at all.

There's a market for style, however it's tiny compared to the market for story. There's a reason it's called a STORYbook, right? Style tends to be a fixation of writers (who are also readers!) and a small collection of art farts.

Your average reader only cares about style to the extent it either (1) Adds to the story or (2) Doesn't detract from the story. Style can add to the story, for sure. In fact, most truly great books do have great style as well and the great style elevates a good story to a great one -- this is broadly the case in literary fiction. Otherwise, the option is a workmanlike style that doesn't detract from the story, that 'carries' the prose competently while focusing on what is actually happening on the mental screen -- as in the case of most genre fiction.
From what I remember, the guy wrote something thing that he called a story. Contained within was a bunch of extremely long sentences constructed to impress writers and a storyline that no one was able to track. Yet, the other writers were impressed in a way that made little sense to me.

"Oh wow, I had to look that word up!"
"You were able to fit that sentence in there with no problem!"
"You have such an interesting way of describing the world!"

All the while, the story was a gibberish, convoluted mess.

I honestly didn't see anything I could learn from that group. Their focus was on all the wrong things for me.
 
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