Versus Mode: Compelling Plot vs. Writing Style

By: Aryanne Ferguson

When it comes to narrative approaches to the novel, I recently came across two seemingly opposing articles.  One, said that in today’s modern age of e-readers it’s essential to write work that grabs the reader’s attention and forces them to buy the book. The plot points are driven by external forces, not character-driven conflict. The other said of poetry that if there’s no music in the words, then it’s not worth reading. Because I believe that poetry and prose are closely related, I’ll apply that article to prose as well and state that there should be musicality to the writing style. So basically the case is: compelling plot versus writing style. Which is more important?

Perhaps, Reader, your first instinct is to argue that in this case the two aren’t mutually exclusive and therefore you can have it both ways. It’s possible to write a well-written lyrical story with a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter that compels the reader to keep on reading. It’s possible to jump from plot point to plot point in a seamless fashion while still deeply investing the reader in the inner and outer lives of the characters without any superficial glossing over of motivations or other aspects of the story. Reader, I’ve read a lot of novels; this one is rare.  For example, I haven’t read many detective novels written with creative, interesting sentences/word choices, and a lyrical quality. Most feel procedural. Not to knock detective novels, but somehow that genre has come to be defined by plot points and serial killers above musicality in writing style.


I admit that as a reader and writer, I prioritize creative language over a riveting plot. Book sales be damned; I’m not in it for the money anyway. Or am I just a lyrical writing snob? You decide, Reader.

So, which is more important to you as a writer?  Which is more important to you as a reader?

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