In Defense of Prose, part 2

In Part 1 I basically started my argument/mild rant for how important the quality of prose is in writing fiction, and in this section I want to rebut some common counter-arguments and misconceptions on the topic.

For a good resource see ShaelinWrites

Isn’t style completely subjective?

This is a tricky one. I see a lot of people come to this conclusion after comparing successful author’s writing seeing that their style is different, and deciding that it’s all a matter of opinion.

Not to be judgy and snobbish but my advice to such a stance is to compare some unpublished or poorly self-published work to more successful. The problem with comparing across good books is that you are comparing the largely subjective parts of prose without realizing that even though works can appear vastly different in style, there will be some solid foundations in common between them (more on what those foundations are later)

What I’m trying to say is yes there is considerable subjectivity in writing, but there are also significant parts of the craft which are relatively well established as important and useful towards strong prose. I realize that music is my go-to for analogy (but if the shoe fits run in it) however its like how all musicians must keep their instrument in tune – sure some use unconventional tuning, or play around with non-western musical tones, but not even the most experimental musician ignores their instrument’s tuning.

Don’t lots of people who get published have ‘bad’ writing?

So this is somewhat related to the above. People love to criticize or point out the flaws of successful works. And this seems to fly in the face of what I said in part 1 about the idea of a good story shining through bad writing.

In reply to that I’m going to say sort-of. Something I hope to establish in this sequence of blogs is that good writing doesn’t necessarily mean intensely skillful prose that the mere words of rock people out of their seats, my philosophy of writing is that prose does what it intends to do.

Let’s take two pretty successful but generally slammed works:

1st Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. The DVC is one of recent times most commercially successful works of fiction. What a lot of people don’t know is the Brown had actually written (I think) 3 previous books will with such mediocre sales his publisher was considering dropping him, he’d even written Angel’s and Demons, the first Robert Langdon book prior to DVC. The point is he wasn’t exactly hitting it off as a writer, and a lot of critics point out that the writing is not exactly brilliant in DVC either, its basic, repetitive and kind of written so that you can follow the plot even if you’re completing a Sudoku and watching Inception at the same time, i.e. It’s explained like you need a classroom lesson in following plotlines.

Despite these criticisms I wouldn’t necessarily say the prose of DVC is bad, its just a particular style that isn’t aiming to entertain through words – but the content of the words.

Similarly for no. 2. 50 Shades of Grey is perhaps even more intensely known for being a very big selling critically harangued work. Reading the piece feels like the author is purposefully snubbing their nose at all the writing advice in the word (the first paragraph is the MC looking into a mirror complaining about their plain looks). But again the words do what they’re meant to do – drop the reader into the word of Anastasia and Christian.

What I’m trying to say is not that my argument is pointless but that there are multiple ways for prose to be good, whether its in serving a popular story or wowing readers with the poetry of the work, this doesn’t make learning about good writing redundant, it in fact makes it all the more vital.

But writing rules are all just guidelines not rules right?

This is something that ShaelinWrites addresses in her video linked above. She makes a great point that (at least the rules she refers to) are better considered rules as while there are exceptions, they are somewhat distinct, rather than being considered a guideline where it may apply or it might not. Shaelin’s rule is basically if it strengthens a sentence (more on what that even means later too) then break the rule.

What I hope to do in my next post, when I go into some of the specifics in convince you that there are vital parts of writing prose to learn that are beyond just ‘writerly guidance’

But of course:


Are there any criticisms or rebuttals of focusing on prose you have heard or even have yourself (don’t be shy)?




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