It would be easy to immediately say that the story is much more important than anything else, because a novel or short story without an actual story, or plot, is nothing but a passage of words. The reality for many people is very different. There are genres of fiction such as Slipstream, which has few boundaries to define what it means or stands for. Those who enjoy traditional fiction may read some of these pieces and struggle to not only understand them, but also enjoy them. Often within these pieces are words or phrases which catch the eye, and resonate a deeper meaning, where the end result of what a story might be is less important than how it is actually written. Here the matter of communication stands out, like a whisper in the night, speaking to us in a way in which many have become immune to hearing, or feeling.
Beyond something like Slipstream are novels which are expressly and expansively written, soaking every sentence in words and descriptions which help to being the scene alive. One such story is called The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, by Angela Carter. The way in which she describes every single thing is rich and full, using every word possible to express every moment of the tale.
Some find it annoying, unable to get past the language to enjoy the story, but others (such as myself) find it accompanies the piece beautifully, as if the words weave a tapestry, stringing it altogether in a unique and fascinating blend.
Even a book such as The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger could be said to be similar, as if the author has poured out every single thought into an endless array of words, clawing at trying to convey her feelings throughout the novel, as if a free flow of words might somehow impart as much emotion to the reader as she might have felt when writing it.
It is a difficult balance, for sure, as a writer. I have heard some say J.K Rowling isn’t a very good writer, because her words and sentences are poorly written, but then this would surely miss the entire point of the Harry Potter books, in that the story and the worlds they create are everything. Does a book have to be written with perfect grammar and spelling, and with the guile and wit of Dickens for it to have any merit?
Truthfully, only the reader can decide this. Some find an awkwardness of grammar or syntax make it impossible to enjoy a novel or story, and that has to be respected, but it cannot be the end of it, because often a truly superb story will override this, and ensure proper enjoyment for the reader, no matter what the story’s limitations in how it is written.
What of those who somehow manage to marry it all perfectly, a wonderful story, superbly written, without a deluge of prose? Perhaps they would be the Mark Twains of the literary world, and rightly recognized for it. If so, perhaps it is something we might all strive for.
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