Style and Content: Which one matters the most?


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I have long been fascinated by this question – not just as a writer, but as an avid (and pretty indiscriminate!) reader. I have often joked that I would read the covering of a pack of toilet rolls if I had nothing else available!

I have never been able to hang my hat on the peg of just one genre. Having said that, however, I think I have a distinctive writing style. Irrespective of my subject matter, something about its delivery is recognisable as an Alienora!

I flitter between topics, rarely staying in one area for long. I tend to go with whatever grabs me at the time, though there are certain areas which preoccupy me more than others. There are also ways of writing which are more inspiring, or fun than your run-of-the-mill Daily Prompt.

How would I describe my own writing style? Taut. Descriptive. Honest. I tend more to the in medias res mentality than strict narrative. I am inclined to plunge straight in with very little lead up – and am not, in that sense, a natural writer of stories which have a beginning, middle and end.

I would say that I am economical with words. This may sound strange given the length of my posts, but it is true. I don’t blather. I don’t take several paragraphs to say what could be expressed succinctly in a single sentence. I try not to be repetitive.

I have long described my style as more akin to prose-poetry, particularly my descriptive works. I say this because I think there is an underlying rhythm – and I often use poetic techniques (alliteration, internal rhyme, basic cynghanedd) to create the effect I want.

I devour books – and have never been a literary snob! I do not feel I have to read the classics and ignore everything else. In terms of relaxation and enjoyment, I am as happy with Chick Lit as I am with, say, P.G.Wodehouse. I adore crime fiction and detective stories and humorous books and true-life weepies and erotic novels and…

There is always that little critic at work, however – and I am perfectly capable of thoroughly enjoying the story-line whilst thinking that the actual writing was mediocre. At the other end of that spectrum, some of literature’s Greats have bored me to tears, though I can see the fine skills of the writer in the technical sense.

Occasionally, we all come across that rare phenomenon: The brilliantly-written, totally absorbing work of literature. ‘Lord of the Flies’ is in that category. The early Tom Sharpe books also, to me, are a prefect marriage of sublime writing ability and eminently readable stories.

I have recently read ‘The Coral Island’ by R.M Ballantyne. William Golding’s dystopian novel of young boys crash-landing on an island was a bitter, and brilliant, parody of Ballantyne’s book – and, for that reason, it has taken me a long time to work my way up to reading it. Slightly to my surprise, I loved it, though I prefer the darkness at the heart of man which Golding evokes so terrifyingly.

Do I think Ballantyne as good a writer as Golding? No, not in the technical sense. He does not sweep with poetic genius upon the nub of it all the way Golding does. His prose, though told in the first person, seems curiously divorced, almost external, from the characters in some ways. Golding, by contrast, frequently writes as if he had hitched a lift behind key character’s eyes or in the centre of their hearts.

This, to me, exposes a fundamental truth about writing: That there is a vast difference between competent tellers of stories, and writers who, in some way, transcend that and mould it into something buzzing and tingling and alive and exciting and totally outside the box as we think it!

Often I will finish a book, and think, ‘Yes, liked that – might find a few more by Author A…’

Occasionally, when I turn that final page, I think, ‘Wow! That was out of this world!’

Is it the style which makes the difference or the content? Ideally, a seamless blend of the two, I suspect: Content dreamed up by a traveller with only one foot upon the Earth as we know it – and style so exquisite that it might easily have been penned with moonlight upon a dream.

That’s what I aspire to!

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