Beautiful Writing vs Storytelling

April 12, 2011 in Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study by pacejmiller

My creative writing class regularly features workshopping of pieces written by my fellow classmates, and it’s always interesting to see the range of writing that gets churned out.  Even more interesting for me is the reactions they have to the work of their fellow writers.

I am someone that can certainly appreciate good writing at the sentence level.  Sentences that touch on the senses and evoke vivid imagery.  Sentences with a strong voice, with realistic dialogue.  Sentences that are rhythmic and lyrical, maybe even poetic.  You know, the type of stuff you see in award-winning literary fiction.

I have classmates that can write bloody good sentences, and I have other classmates that gush over those sentences.  But to me, writing is much more than just putting together beautiful sentences.  I get impressed by them as much as the next person, but to be honest they can have the tendency to bore me sometimes.

That’s where good storytelling comes in.  I know in writing we are taught to show, not tell, but it’s actually more complicated than that.  If all you do is show, all you end up with is a list of descriptions and the pace sags.  If all you do is tell, you don’t get any visual images and the narrative loses its allure.

I think sometimes beautiful writing is overrated and masterful storytelling is underrated.  Guys like John Grisham are considered good ‘storytellers’ rather than good ‘writers’, but is that really a fair label?  They’re all good writers to me as long as they create enjoyable stories.

I’ve been struggling lately with the beautiful writing vs storytelling conundrum.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve been too focused on writing pretty sentences, but recently it feels like my writing goes nowhere.  It’s nowhere near as fast-paced as I want it to be and significantly slower than what I used to write.

The last couple of days I told myself to forget about the bloody sentences and just write whatever came to mind.  Forget about the descriptions and just focus on telling a story.  To my surprise, it worked well.  I now have around 4000 words of almost pure storytelling, which feels good but is still problematic.

The next step is to try and find a balance between the two.