Every writer knows that there are a few books gracing the bookstore shelves out there called “style books.” I fear that is a misnomer. Perhaps they should be called “rule books.”
A period goes at the end of a sentence. That’s a rule.
How long that sentence is? That’s style. As a Southern fiction writer, I am inclined to make my sentences a little longer than some. Start sentences in the middle. (See previous sentence for example.) Southern writers tend to drone on (and on) in their descriptions (you know, in case our Northern brothers and sisters don’t quite get what we’re trying so desperately to convey). In turn, when “critiqued” by other less-understanding writers or even readers, we get lines like “your sentences are entirely too long.”
Well, that’s style.
Just recently, after reading a string of books in which the writers broke all the writing rules, I realized that–in fact–what the authors had done was break rules of style. Ah-ha. Now, did I throw the books across the room? No. Did I keep reading? You betcha (in spite of the fact that my editing brain would occasionally think: you just used that word in the previous sentence).
I pondered this.
I pondered this for quite some time.
And then it hit me …
Story trumps style (and rules).
I didn’t throw those books with all their broken rules and styles across the room because the stories within were fabulous! Compelling. Drawing me further and further in. Into the lives of the characters. Into their quandaries. Often putting me in the position of having to decide if I wanted to work and make money (for more books) or keep reading.
As the president of Word Weavers International, as a teacher at writers conferences, and as a private writing coach and freelance editor, I get the “style/rule” questions a lot.
“Make this one sentence a paragraph unto itself,” I say to my client (or the conferee/fellow Word Weaver).
“But, my seventh grade grammar teacher said a paragraph has be x-number of sentences.”
“That’s a rule,” I say. “That’s not style. Forget the rules. Work on style.”
However, after reading these last novels, I see the following in terms of importance:
Whatever style you have, whatever rules you break, make certain you have a story that trumps them all. Write in such a way that readers (and editors, etc.) simply will. not. care. that your paragraph only had three words in it. Or that your ellipses didn’t have a space before and after it. Or … whatever.
Story. Fiction or nonfiction–it’s the story that draws your readers. It’s the story that trumps all else.
Eva Marie Everson is a best-selling, multiple award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction. She is the president of Word Weavers International, the director of Florida Christian Writers Conference, and president of Pen In Hand, Inc. Her latest release, The Road to Testament, is set in North Carolina. She is currently writing a good story for Tyndale Publishing House, Five Brides, based on actual events in post WWII.