Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Weekly Poll 11/4/09

The poll question from last week was...

As a reader, is writing style or plot more important to keep you hooked on a book?

  • style
  • plot
The results were that 67% feel writing style is more important while the remaining 33% feel plot is more important.

My first reaction was that I wasn't sure which I would answer--good style without a plot driving it feels kind of pointless while good plot with no style is just downright painful.  Luckily, I had a week to figure out which I felt, in the end, was more important in my own 'joie de lire.'

In this entry, I'm defining style as including word choice and sentence structure, which then affect dialogue, character development, and descriptions.  Plot, on the other hand, includes the basic plot (i.e., what happens), including the chosen characters and settings.

First, I want to backtrack to what I said in Monday's MadLib post about the MadLib feature making me slow down and analyze writing style more thoroughly.  I had a difficult time using Rebecca for the passage for my MadLibs feature because as I was picking out words to delete, I noticed that Daphne duMaurier has little to no adverbs in her writing.  Noticing that reminded me of writing guides (e.g., Stephen King's On Writing) that warn writers against using too many adverbs (or other modifiers, for that matter).

Compare the feel of Rebecca's opening lines to those of Twilight, and you might start seeing why writing guides would warn authors of becoming too attached to modifiers if those authors want to achieve literary status (versus Blockbuster-type status).  Not only did duMaurier not use an abundance of modifiers, but she also used sentence structures that don't lend themselves to deleting words to insert new words.  In other words, her sentence structures are unique and beg to remain in their original form.  Again, thinking about style got me questioning whether I thought style or plot was more important.

Books that become part of my "favorites" list are those that have both style and plot working for them: Rebecca, Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen, Harry Potter (all seven of them), and The Help by Kathryn Stockett, just to name a few.  If, though, I had to choose between reading bad plot/good style and good plot/bad style, I think I would rather read the book with a questionable plot but good writing style.

Unfortunately, most of the books I could come up with for this post were on the other side of the coin: good plot/bad style.  For example, I can't get past Dan Brown's writing style to enjoy his books, yet I am enthralled by his plots (and thus happy that his books have movies made out of them).  I had previously said that I'm not a fan of Mary Higgins Clark's writing style, but I love her books because the plots draw me in.  Her writing style doesn't distract me from the plot--it just doesn't move me, either.

Recently I've read a few books whose plots I didn't think were anything I would've been interested in, but I ended up enjoying the books because the writing style was so amazing.  The plots aren't "bad," but they alone wouldn't have kept me reading the books.  The first is Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut, and the second is Bitter Sweets by Roopa Farooki.  When reading those books, I kept reading not because the plot had sucked me in so much that I just had to know what would happen next but because the style had sucked me in so much that I just had to know what the author would write next.

Another blogger, Livia Blackburne, posted "Genre, writing, and cliche, oh my!" this week, in which she explored the notion of writing within a genre while remaining fresh.  The reason I bring that posting up here is that my thought on it is that authors who write well can get away with using clichés or spotty plots while authors who do not write well better have a bang-up plot to keep readers going.  One of the clichés listed for chick lit is having a fabulous gay friend or witty banter in a coffee shop; my first thought was of Marian Keyes, who writes chick lit and has the fabulous gay friend showing up in her plots.  Yet, she does it so well that I don't notice I'm reading what could, in fact, be an instance of a cliché for her genre.

Thank you to all my voters this week, and the new poll question of the week is up in the left sidebar.  Vote by next Wednesday, when I'll post on the results.

Happy reading, whether you're reading for the book's style, plot, or both!


Angie said...

I love the polls - they make me think a lot about the books I enjoy and why I enjoy them. This week's question is so hard! I wanted an "all of the above" option..

Jessie Sams said...

Thanks, Angie. I almost put a last option: "It depends on the book/author." But then I knew that would probably be the one most frequently picked, which doesn't tell me much about *typical* reading styles. So I'm being mean and forcing people to choose--I'm excited to see which one is most popular among readers.

Jenn (Books At Midnight) said...

Hm, definitely agree with you. The question was HARD. I picked plot in the end because you can't go anywhere wihtout it, but I have to say that writing style is definitely what makes me absolutely love a book. And I read Rebecca and didn't like it too much... Maybe it's because of writing. Great questions! :)

Billy Longino said...

This was a very interesting poll. I picked style because I'm a writer, but I think it's interesting that many "literary" writers pay so much attention to style that plot often suffers. Literary writers could learn quite a bit from genre writers about plot, especially some sci-fi writers. As for someone who excels at both it is difficult to think of many. In the realm of sci-fi I can only think of Frank Herbert, and for literature I would say Cormac McCarthy, Truman Capote, and Mary Shelley, though many would disagree with Shelley from what I've seen.

And you are absolutely right about Vonnegut; his writing style is what draws you in, but his plots can subtly affect you. Something that I believe makes him quite amazing.

Jessie Sams said...

Jenn, you didn't like Rebecca?! How could you not love the mystery? Okay, okay. That's the wonderful things about books--not everyone has to like them for them. :)

And Billy, I agree with you that when close attention is paid to style, plot can suffer. In fact, I think that happens quite often in some genres--the goal is for the writer to be overly stylistic or unique in his/her stylings rather than to create a plot for readers to jump into. It's interesting you should mention Capote as an author who has both--I can't get into his books because I'm not a fan of his style. Again, books are great that way--they can be so-so or even bad for some people but great for others.

As a clarification, picking style over plot does not mean I pay no attention to plot whatsoever--something has to grab me to make me want to continue reading. Even told in wonderful styles, there are certain plots I'll never be able to get through.

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