What on earth am I talking about?
Only the greatest writing-related hangup I have ever encountered.
There's nothing worse than having a really spectacular idea for a story, and then having no idea how best to stylistically do justice to its awesomeness. There are simply so many things to consider; your audience, the narrative style, the undertones or messages in the story, the general tone of the story itself. While most of us can agree on the necessity of good spelling and grammar, use of language in a book is a whole new ambiguity.
Of course, I don't mean to say that pretty prose of any sort is ever a true substitute for an actual narrative - however abstractly you interpret the word. The book has to have a purpose; whether it be to illustrate the futility of human thought through multiple inter-locking fragments of complex human thought, or to amuse us with the story of the platypus who achieved superhuman intelligence and rose to the rank of Royal Blackboard Scrubber for the Queen of Norway.
So the real question here is this: how important is the quality of language in a story? I am reading a couple of Young Adult novels at the moment, and I am infinitely enjoying one more than the other because its use of language is much more sophisticated and imaginatively stimulating. Both have similarities story-wise, but the authors' use of language makes them as disparate as dragons and doorknobs.
It's also a great matter of personal opinion.
I, for example, am a great advocate of powerful, evocative language - and perhaps a little too liberal in its use. I am capable of ploughing through even the most incredibly slow, introspective sort of plot if the use of prose is inventive and intriguing. I don't even draw the line at serious digressions into tangled streams of consciousness, provided the language remains interesting and continues to hold my interest. Even better if it sends me off on philosophical mental deviations of my own (though I could perhaps do without serious brain-bork, thank you Mr William Faulkner).
On the other hand, my brother couldn't care less for wonderful use of language. What he wants is a good story, engaging characters, and plenty of exciting twists to entertain his over-active teenage brain. He is more than happy to overlook clumsier phraseology if the story itself continues to engage him.
As an example, he was reading a book over the summer for his English class, which he detested because nothing really happened, but I absolutely adored for its stunningly abstract writing style.
On the other hand, despite being a die-hard admirer of fine prose, I'm also a huge fan of Bernard Cornwell's novels, many of which use incredibly basic language, but nevertheless keep me pinned to the page as surely as if his grumpy Saxon warlord was gripping me by the hair and using me as a substitute for his shield in a battle. The aforementioned brother also came up to me once and declared he simply couldn't get through a chapter of a different school book because the action was made so boring by the way the book was written.
For the more detail-oriented among us, there is the eternal question of how long an author should spend polishing the language of a manuscript before considering it suitable for publication. Chasing commas around a document for hours at a time is no fun, I can tell you that. But I do like to think it's a little less important in my rollicking sword-and-sorcery fantasy romp, where I can interest the readers more in the exploits of my misadventurous hero, than in the Personal Statement that will be ruthlessly shredded by the eagle-eyed academics of university admissions departments.
It seems that we just can't win. I've even managed to confuse myself several times just by re-reading this post.
But what about you, my friends? How important is writing style to you, as a reader and / or a writer? Do you spend as much time perfecting your use of language as you do on your plot during editing? Why is that?
Leave me a comment and let me know!
~ Charley R