I love language. When I write, I try to create sentences and paragraphs that pull my readers in, that tickle and delight or thrill and give fright. I try to use lovely and effective description, designing word pictures and using syntax and structures that evoke emotion and fall gracefully on the reader’s ear.
All of these aims are important to me, but more vital than the words and constructions, is the story itself. I stress story over style every time.
Ever decorated a Christmas tree?
In working with my piano students, there comes a time when I ask if they’ve ever decorated a Christmas tree. I’ve been teaching for twenty years, had over two hundred students in three different countries, and I’ve never had a student say no. My next question is this: “What’s the first thing you have to do when decorating a Christmas tree?”
Most students say it’s lights, but there’s something you have to do even before that. You have to get the tree. Everything hangs on the tree—without it, you just have a shapeless pile of decorations.
I use this to illustrate the function and importance of rhythm in music, but something similar applies in the art of writing. The story is the Christmas tree. It provides the shape and substance on which everything else—all the beautiful imagery and stylish descriptions—depends.
Writers are storytellers
I’m a writer, but more than that, I’m a storyteller. When I listen to someone tell a story, I can forgive a certain lack of finesse in the delivery if the story is worth it. Stories speak to us, they resonate within the very heart of us, firing receptors in our DNA.
More than flair, more than elegant sentence construction and sparkling syntax, story matters. It is my goal and passion to create stories you’ll love reading and to do that, I stress story over style.
How about you? Which element do you value more in the books you read—story or style? Tell us about it in the comments.