What you say - or how you say it?by Clare O'Donohue
Q: Which is more important, to tell a story that compels readers to turn pages, regardless of writing craft technique, OR to spend time on each sentence, on each word, to fine tune your writing so that your prose is admired by critics and scholars?
A perfectly written sentence is a thing of beauty. There's more than one book where, as a reader, I've lingered over the images created by a skilled wordsmith. In fact it was reading The Great Gatsby as a kid that made me want very badly to be a writer. It's a book with a good story, but it's the emotion that lives in each sentence that made me love that book, long before I really understood what it was about.
And obviously I would love to write like that, or like Cormac McCarthy or Elmore Leonard, or anyone with a gift for tearing into the heart of a sentence and letting it bleed into you.
But no matter how much the word matters, it matters less than story. Words are the ornament to the tree, the ribbon to a package. It's story that matters.
And story matters less than characters. Or as I like to call them, people. The people in a book, if they're real and struggling and desperate... then you have something. Then as a reader I'll follow them through nearly any story, I'll listen to nearly any word. If they matter, then it all matters. And if they don't, then nothing - not the prettiest sentence in the best plotted book - will hold me past page ten.
And you know what matters least of all? Being admired by critics and scholars.