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Beautiful Writing vs Storytelling April 12, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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.



1. Zach Taylor - April 12, 2011

One of the best pieces of advise that I have ever been given about writing stories is this: just write, don’t edit while creating your story.

I honestly think that is what is most important when it comes to constructing your story: write all of it down first. (as you have been doing, whatever comes to mind.) The editing process is where you really go back and create those beautiful sentences in which you captivate readers. If you focus too hard on beautiful writing while creating the story it will limit you and often times cause you to lose parts to abstract beauty.

2. SandySays1 - April 12, 2011

Balance and knowing when to use show and when to use tell will allow you to get the most from your written word. Unfortunately, cycles are ingrained in everything and right now its the apex of the “show” fad. Use the technique that best allows you to convey your message and tell your story. Screw what the “experts” say is “right.”

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