Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

Style vs. Substance

Is it better to be a master stylist, with beautiful, flowing prose and a relatively limp story or a decent technician with a wonderful story?

Obviously you want both, but that rarely happens. More often, you’re reading a story and thinking it’s very well written; I wish the story were better – or, I love the story; I wish this author could craft a better sentence.

So what’s the answer? It depends on why you’re reading the story in the first place. If you enjoy the craft of writing, you’ll probably wish for the former, and if you just want to be entertained, you’ll likely prefer the latter.

I tend to be more intrigued by substance than by style. I’ve read many beautifully written books that go nowhere, and after a time I grow weary because nothing exciting is occurring on the page.

That said, something that’s all action but poorly written frustrates me. I want to shake the author and say, “This needs more editing, more revision, more clarity and better flow.”

Work at your craft; become at least a serviceable writer; then you can concern yourself with discovering a brilliant story – or, find a brilliant story and write it down; then revise it and edit it and revise it again, taking out everything that detracts from it until only the pure essence remains.

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