I try hard to write beautiful sentences. To emote and describe and to create a tone that takes my reader away (hopefully to the same place where my imagination resides). And that, is a good thing.
But for a long time it’s where I started out from. When I approached a short story this was my initial concern. And that’s wrong.
All (prose) writing is about telling a story. Everything must begin with the story. Everything must service the story.
This I think is something that literary fiction writers in particular must be most aware of. Because when you are describing the sky, has it actually got anything to do with relaying to your eager reader the drama that you are trying to relate? If not. Get it out.
Its All About The Story. Everything has to start with Plot and Drama….and Conflict…. once you’ve established that, then and only then do you try and do it in a beautiful way.
The ‘So what’ test is very useful here.
A man holds big parties and has a shady past …so what?
A man holds big parties and has a shady past and is trying desperately to get his old flame who lives next door back into his life……aaaah!
A man wakes up in the morning………..so what?
A man wakes up in the morning and he finds he has turned into a giant cockroach………. Aaah!
A man moves into a guest house and fancies his landladies daughter ….. so what, ho hum.
A man moves into a guest house and fancies his landladies daughter….and she’s 14. ….Hello?
The right answer to the ‘so what’ is what the writers bring to the table – the cockroaches and the ennui and the mysteries of love and lust and everything in between … Its where we find the moral dilemmas. Where we find the grist. Where we take stories told before and put an interesting twist or sheen or a new approach to them.
(another way of putting this is the ‘long and’… aaannnnnnnnnnd, what happens then, what’s the point of this)
The correct answer to this is what gives you permission to write.
It also helps with pitching. (It is pitching.)
It’s the edge – the story. Your take on how hard it is to be a human and the drama that weeps out of that condition at times. That’s what people want to read.
Write beautifully of course, but put it into a (very) close second to getting your engaging, interesting, gripping story sorted.
So what? Apply it mercilessly.