Last Friday I blogged about the criticism aimed at Dan Brown’s latest novel, The Lost Symbol.
The debate my post sparked was lively and enjoyable. I, for one, love nothing better than discussing the craft of writing with other writers.
But what became clear to me as the day wore on was that writers appear to fall into two camps. Those who believe that story is all and those that feel the style of a piece is what makes it sing.
To be fair, I’m sure most of us would say we aim for both...a riveting plot, well told.
But when the chips are down we tend to place more importance on one or the other. Do we want to be recognised for the sheer beauty of our prose or the excitement our story lines engender?
For me it is always the later. I write thrillers and more than anything else they must ...er...thrill. If they don’t, they fail.
Now this doesn’t mean I don’t put a lot of effort into my work. Far from it. I agonise for weeks over the structure, trying each permutation to see which more successfully ramps up the tension than another. I try to create characters that best tell my story and carry the reader with them. These are my conduits to the public and nothing they say or do will be irrelevant to what I am trying to achieve.
Finally, I keep my writing spare. I avoid long descriptions or digressions. This takes will power. Of course I want to frolic off, telling my readership all sorts of interesting asides, but this would be pure indulgence on my part.
Before I wrote full time I was a trial lawyer. I spent over ten years hanging out in court rooms. Over time it became obvious to me who the best solicitors and barristers were. The ones who won more cases than they lost. I’m proud to say I fell into that camp.
How did we do it? We kept things simple. We focussed on the best part of our argument and never let the jury/judge lose sight of it. And we were always in forward motion.
I attempt, whenever possible to bring these rules of communication to my writing. I remind myself that they work.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is how everyone should write. There are many scribblers out there who prefer a more languid pace. And there are readers who like it too. Sometimes that is exactly what I am in the mood for and I love nothing better than savouring a delightful sentence.
Personally, I think there is room for both story led and style focussed fiction on the book shop shelves. And everything in between. I think the publishing industry remains healthier when it commissions a mixture.
Finally, I wish writers would give each other a break and stop trying to rubbish one another work. When I was a solicitor I never heard the tax bods saying the PI guys ‘couldn’t lawyer.’ The family experts didn’t lord it over the defence advocates. We accepted that we each did a different job, that each needed an entirely divergent skill set.
As a writer, I see it in exactly the same way.