I’ve been hearing from readers who don’t understand why writers measure each other by the “beauty and word craft of the prose,” when readers insist they’re only looking for a good story. Sometimes it does seem as if only other writers judge writing by how skillful or poetic the words are, fashioned into brilliant but perhaps slow-moving sentences or paragraphs. Yet the words do count. We are after all, craftpersons.
Writing Tip for Today: I’ve said this before, and I truly believe it: There are only two kinds of writing–writing that works and writing that needs work. Students like to point out famous authors who get away with breaking this rule or that rule. All fine and good, but if those broken rules add up to a dull or nonexistent story, I doubt it will be remembered for long.
- A Fine Choice. The words that make up the writing should be the best choices to serve the story. This also speaks to tone: If you want a casual and intimate read, you avoid stiff, formal or fifty-dollar words. You use contractions. You give the reader particulars (CSD) when it matters, and you skim over story stuff that isn’t important.
- Show, Not Show-off. You try to avoid flexing your wordsmith muscles. The goal is connection and communication, not elitist snobbery. William F. Buckley Jr. used a lot of big words because he could. Don’t use a fancy word if a simple one will do, don’t use a modifier when a specific noun or verb will do, etc.
- Story is King (and Queen). If an author manages to marry a great story with great prose, then that’s fine. Yet no matter how beautiful a description, soliloquy or flashback, most readers prefer to cut to the chase–literally. Readers want action, movement. They want to be enticed to move forward in the story to find out what happens. Words Matter. But Story (in my little opinion) Matters More.