Over at Vox’s blog he had a post about Amazon’s editor’s pick for books. Among other things he said “a novel consists of four elements, Style, Story, Characters, and Ideas.”
I worked a long time on TSCB, and I thought it had some great characters, a solid story, and some interesting ideas, and the writing style was what I like to call “serviceable,” that is, clear and easily read and understood. Not particularly flashy or eloquent, more Hemingway than highbrow.
I knew it needed polish, so I hired an editor, and I think I got a good one. She worked hard on it, and she definitely improved it, but it was a process that definitely raised my blood pressure whenever I received an email from her. She made a lot of very good criticisms, and my writing absolutely improved. But when she started making a second pass to polish it up a bit, I suddenly realized after struggling mightily with a massively rewritten paragraph that I liked my original version (well, slightly modified by the first pass) much better. And, more importantly, I was able to put my finger on what exactly the problem was. I like simple, clear, easy to read and understand prose that means exactly what it said, and the heavily rewritten version was what I saw as being much more “literary.” It didn’t sound like me, or my characters, at all. I said “I’m done.” I finished up by rejecting many of the most recent edits, asked her what I owed her, made sure the formatting looked good, and hit the big PUBLISH button.
I like clean, simple, easy-to-understand sentences. I like having likable characters. Occasional poetic passages to capture a mood are fine, but an unending series of bad things happening to bad people in a depressing story? No, I’ll take a pass on that. I don’t care how great the style is, if I don’t like the characters, I can’t learn anything useful from them, and there is no significance or value or cool ideas in the story, then it’s a waste of my time.