Thursday, March 28, 2013

Content vs Style vs Context


What is more important your content or the style in which it is written?  This has been an ongoing debate in my Prose Stylistics class.  I say content is primary, with style playing a secondary role and context coming in third – this is a photo finish fall these three. 

Style involves things like sentence structure, tropes and schemes (like alliteration, metaphors, syllepsis etc.), word choice, punctuation and so on.  It is how you write your content.  Content of course is what you are saying.   

As an author I know I don’t take style into consideration at all (at least not consciously) when I’m writing for the first time.  If I’m doing a rough draft of fiction, I just write.  I don’t’ think about my word choices, sentence structure, or anything else – it is just a matter of getting the story out of my head and onto the paper. 

When I’m editing, I make all those tough choices.  It is then I look at my metaphors and similes to see if they are tired.  I look at the structure of the sentence – does it sound right?  Often I will read it out loud to see how it sounds.  This is when style comes into play. 

If I’m writing for a particular publication, I look at their writing guidelines and issues to see what has been successful.  Depending on what it is – an essay or fiction or ??? – I will model my work after what has already made it into the publication.  The one caution about this though is that you have to remember to keep your approach fresh.  Following someone else’s format too closely may make your own piece seem a bit stilted and tired. 

For me, I just want to write a good story, essay, directions, or whatever it is I’m writing.  I want it to entertain, instruct, or persuade.  You do that with great content and great editing to adjust the style to the context you want the piece to fit.

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