I finally caught up with the rest of the world this past summer and read the Harry Potter series. When I finished the first book, my wife asked me what I thought of it. I told her I thought the plot, the world-building, and the characters were all fantastic, but the writing itself was weak, so I wasn’t sure I could truly say I enjoyed it. She told me I was being a writing snob. I told her I preferred the term “style junkie.”
The fact of the matter is we were both right. I am a style junkie. There are a few authors who could write about the four hours they sat waiting at the DMV, and I would love it because the way they write is just so perfect. Great writing is beautiful to me, even if the content of the writing is bland. On the other hand, I’ve read several incredibly compelling books by authors who don’t have dazzling style. Even though the books are a blast to read, I still manage to put the authors down for their inability to write exceedingly well. I am a writing snob.
I recently finished the rough draft of my own very first full-length novel. While this hardly qualifies me as a writing expert, I feel like I’ve been learning a lot about storytelling, writing, and art in general. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned has been in this vein of writing quality. It came in the form of an instantaneous revelation:
The average reader could care less about my writing style.
I’m not saying readers don’t pick up on all the little quirks that make up an author’s voice, but when you pick up a book at the bookstore, what does it say on the back? Does it tell you about the author’s flowery prose, his poignant metaphors, and his perfect syntax? Or does it tell you about the characters, the world, and the plot you’re about to experience?
When I look at the work of a lot of beginning writers – including my own stuff, past and present – I see the work of a writer who desperately wants to be seen as a writer. We writers are proud of being writers, and we want people to know we’re writers. So we write as eloquently as possible. We try to force people to realize that we’re writers, and somewhere along the line, we forget to tell a good story.
It’s odd how easy it is to forget that if someone picks up your book, they know you’re a writer. Heck, you wrote a book. Believe it or not, no one has ever written a book without being a writer.
I’m not saying it doesn’t matter if you write well or not. Good writing helps immerse readers in the story. But most people – people who aren’t writing snobs like I and so many others can be – read books for the stories. Don’t let your desire to be seen as a writer overshadow your duty to tell a great story.