When writing you have a lot to think about, and one thing I’ve noticed is that it is easy to get lost in working out the plot and the characters.
A good story and engaging characters are vital to a good book if you want readers to be able to get invested. It is a constant struggle to work out original and compelling ways of telling your story that will make you stand out from the rest. We think and we plan and we sweat over this, desperately trying to make sure the plot makes sense and isn’t too predictable, and that our characters are not flat and two dimensional.
But as important all all this is, it is vital that you don’t forget that it is the writing style that makes your book great.
I recently went to see the latest Star Trek movie, Star Trek Into Darkness. It was amazing. Exciting, fast-paced, everything you wanted in a science-fiction action movie. All the way through it I was enjoying myself, and while watching I did not pick up a bum note in the storytelling.
But afterwards, once I had time to think it over, certain holes in the plot become glaringly obvious. There are points in the film that just don’t make sense when looked at in the cold light of day. I noticed a few, and then others have pointed out still more. All in all, it cannot be denied that Star Trek Into Darkness is a movie that is riddled with plot holes and inconsistencies.
But that doesn’t take anything away from how good the movie is. It is constructed in such a way that when you are actually watching it, at least for the first time, you don’t notice these flaws. They are enough to further the story that the filmmakers what to tell, and so caught up are the viewers that they suspend their disbelief enough to accept it. And if I watch it again in the future, I’ll know they are there but I’ll still be able to ignore the plot holes and enjoy the ride.
If you did this the other way around, and had a story that made perfect sense every step of the way but wasn’t fun to watch it would just be a bad, unentertaining movie. Plot holes in a well made movie can be ignored as our attention is caught. A bad movie with no plot holes is just that. A bad movie.
There is a slight difference when applying this idea to novels, as we do pay more attention to the written word as it requires our imaginations to process more than simply watching a screen, but the principle is exactly the same. What makes a writer successful is the style of their writing. If we enjoy reading the words themselves for their own sake, we will be willing to forgive the odd mistake and plot hole. We are enjoying the act of reading rather than what we are reading. (Well, as well as what we’re reading, but I’m making a point here).
I’m going to offer up as an example the author Dan Brown. For all the criticism levelled at him, his plots are intricate and complex. He clear puts a lot of thought and knowledge into the story and has made sure everything works well enough to keep the story going. The problem is that his actual writing is terrible. Truly terrible. If it wasn’t for the fact that the Catholic Church gave him all the free publicity it did over the religious subjects he choses he should never have been as successful as he was. But he remains a prime example of story over style.
On the other hand, if you take someone such as Stephen Fry; a man who could write a page on the art of tying his shoelaces and make it a pleasure to read. His style is simply a love of words and a talent for arranging them in a way that is readable simply for their own sake.
I’m not saying that story is not just as important and style, just that it is very easy for writers to forget it is not all that makes up a good novel. Readers have to enjoy reading, and also you have to enjoy the writing. If all you are doing is putting one plot-point after another then your work is not going to be fun to read.
Put thought into you story. Make it interesting and compelling and original. Just do not allow yourself to forget that it is your own unique voice coming through that will make or break your work. Let the story and characters drive your writing, but let your love of words lead it.