Thursday, May 17, 2012

Food for thought

With the uproar over E.L. James's Fifty Shades trilogy these last few months, one of the big debates among readers has been whether story or delivery is more important, not just in this case but in cases of all print material.  If you're not familiar, you can certainly page through thousands of reviews for Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels on Amazon, but I'll give you the jist.

One side of this argument is that the merit of a book, any book, is in the story and characters, irregardless of style.  That a strong story is worth reading and recommending even if there are grammatical errors (it happens in books from all publishing houses, I assure you), limited vocabulary, repetitive phrases, etc.  The other camp claims that style, the vehicle which carries the story, is just as important, if not more so, as the story itself.  From this view, it's less about the destination and all about how we get there, and those on this side of the line would argue that in the case of the less well-written or -edited stories, the errors are simply too distracting to enjoy the journey.  Essentially, does the lack of style destroy the message?

I find merit in both arguments.  I won't lie.  I worked in academic editing for four years, and tend to be a bit of a stickler when it comes to grammar, vocabulary and sentence structure.  For me, reading along and enjoying a book is easily interrupted by an awkward turn of phrase or the wrong verb tense.  I know, small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, but a well-told tale is one that keeps you in its thrall from beginning to end, without lags or hiccups.  If those bumps in the road are few and far between, it's much easier to settle back into the story without much pause.  However, for me, if those interruptions are consistent enough and jarring enough, I'll often get annoyed and in some cases, I just stop reading.  As with all rules, there are exceptions, and sometimes I do find a premise or character compelling enough to follow through all the way to the end.

I'm interested to hear what others think about this argument.  How do you feel about reading books that contain multiple errors or are not very well written?  Can story trump style?

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