The Next Best Book Club discussion

104 views
Book Related Banter > Style Over Substance or Substance Over Style?

Comments Showing 1-28 of 28 (28 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Chris (new)

Chris Peel | 37 comments Just wanted your opinions on this age-old topic. What should be the focus of a book, its plot or its style?

I suppose I think that it should be substance. I mean I love Kafka and the gang but sometimes I feel that many of their books suffer. I loved the Trial by Kafka but hated the Castle and I think this was to do with plot.

But then again, I find myself thinking back to books which annoyed me not because of the plot but because of the style they were written in and perhaps if the style was different I would have liked it.

Anyway, just wondering if anyone else had any thoughts?


message 2: by Mary (last edited Mar 13, 2010 11:25AM) (new)

Mary (madamefifi) | 358 comments Substance is way more important! Style is no substitute for content, and if it's pretentious enough it can completely ruin what might've been a good book otherwise.

An example: House of Leaves. The "style" got pretty annoying about a third of the way through. It was a struggle to comb through all the extraneous gewgaws looking for the actual story.


*Edited to substitute "content" for "plot".


message 3: by Andreea (new)

Andreea (andyyy) | 117 comments I don't really care for the plot. Plot and characters somehow just stay in the way of the true essence of the book, it's heart and soul... which almost never lays within the characters themselves or what happens to them, but in the way we react to the book and the book's hidden mechanism. It's nice when a book sucks you in with its captivating plot and you simply have to continue to read it to find out what happens to the characters, but on the long run, I'm much more likely to go back and reread a book whose stylistic tricks I've enjoyed than one with an action-movie plot. Perhaps the perfect book has a bit of both.


message 4: by Kaion (new)

Kaion (kaionvin) Are we just calling plot "substance"? I think there's more to substance than that...


message 5: by Mary (last edited Mar 13, 2010 12:02PM) (new)

Mary (madamefifi) | 358 comments Kaion wrote: "Are we just calling plot "substance"? I think there's more to substance than that..."



^^I agree, which is why I edited my post. "Plot" is the storyline. And perhaps I'm oversimplifying but I take "style" to mean "technique", for example stream-of-conciousness or multiple footnotes or whatever. Andrea's comment "Perhaps the perfect book has a bit of both" is spot-on.


Lyn (Readinghearts) (lsmeadows) I'm going to have to go with Fiona on this one. I think the best books have a balance between the two. There have been a few books that I have read that have leaned more heavily on one or the other, and have been excellent books, but a balance is the preference for me.


message 7: by Chris (new)

Chris Peel | 37 comments Kaion wrote: "Are we just calling plot "substance"? I think there's more to substance than that..."

Interesting point and I was just thinking about this when my most hated author, Hemingway, sprang to mind. His books have alot of plot but I always felt that they'd had no substance, which is weird. I think substance has to be taken for the emotion of the novel, and style is how they portary this emotion. But then again, I'm not doing a English degree.


message 8: by Catamorandi (new)

Catamorandi (wwwgoodreadscomprofilerandi) | 1045 comments I think that the style can pull away from the plot. For instance, I couldn't get into the plot of The Road or Fallen by David Maine, because of the style. For me, the style is equally important as plot in my books. There needs to be a balance.


message 9: by Dana * (new)

Dana * (queenofegypt) I would vote for substance. That is what I read the summary for, to see if the story has substance. I might read the first page to find out style, or the flaps if there are excerpts there. But Style can turn me off of an otherwise great story. For instance, right now I am trying desperately to get into The Road, but the style is making it very hard. This is my third try.

Oddly enough, one of the things that attracted me to it long ago was the style, I thought it would add to the read, but it has not, for me.


message 10: by Alex (new)

Alex Great question. Assuming substance means plot, and we're talking about books that are great on either plot or writing style, bad on the other, and are equal in terms of actually meaning something interesting...I pick plot.

Dana, I find Cormac McCarthy's style a bit tough to get into as well. Jose Saramago is another one whose style is so in-your-face different that it sometimes pulls you out of the book; you end up thinking more about punctuation than what's going on. Both good authors, of course.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 1736 comments I'm with Fiona, I think.


message 12: by Carol (new)

Carol Then there is the age old William Faulkner. I guess his books don't bother me ,because I am notorious for no punctuation.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 1736 comments Faulkner confuses me, but I like it.


message 14: by Ralph Gallagher (new)

Ralph Gallagher | 64 comments A book without substance isn't really that good. Who wants to read a random book of fluffy prose? You need some kind of substance before you can have style with it. You can have substance without style, but you can't have style without substance.


message 15: by Katie (new)

Katie Ralph wrote: You can have substance without style, but you can't have style without substance.

I disagree. I think you can have substance without style or style without substance, but neither combination makes for an interesting work of art.

j wrote: style drives substance, never the other way around, no?

That depends entirely on who is driving. One writer might have a style that influences his/her direction, while to others the idea always determines the form. But that's a chicken/egg argument, isn't it? What's important is that style and substance work together as a unified whole. Otherwise, in my opinion, the writer fails.

That said, I'll take beautiful writing over an interesting story any day.


message 16: by Kaion (new)

Kaion (kaionvin) Though sometimes I might be gullible and fall for "style", it feels like empty calories. The story presents me with the situations I can mull over- gives the possibilities.

That being said- I think in the best novels, the style and the plot are so instrinsically linked, they just "work" together to elevate the whole over the individual parts. So I don't think anyone's excluding one over the other. I'll take a serving of both, thank you very much.

So, which authors do you think offer you the right style but not the right story? (Or the opposite...)


message 17: by Alex (new)

Alex Kaion wrote: "So, which authors do you think offer you the right style but not the right story?"

You know what? Lolita. I love Nabokov's writing; I think it's dropdead gorgeous. But the plot bores me. Not due to squeamishness; I've read lots of books about lots of bad people doing lots of bad things. I can handle that. This particular plot just doesn't grab me.


message 18: by Manday (new)

Manday | 212 comments I loved House of Leaves for both style and content! I don't think its an either/or situation, if you want an awesome book there has got to be a balance. But, there are exceptions of course!

All substance, no style five star read would be anything by Stephanie Meyers

I agree that at times Nabakov is more style than substance - in SOME of his books, not all. He is my favorite author. Its the books that combine his awesome style with some interesting philosophical substance that get five stars from me!! (and, Lolita does not get five stars).


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 1736 comments I think the only place where I might take style over substance is poetry. Style can take you far in poetry.


message 20: by Dana * (new)

Dana * (queenofegypt) Susanna wrote: "I think the only place where I might take style over substance is poetry. Style can take you far in poetry."

You know, I personally always thought that is what made me HATE poetry. After studying all the iambic pentameter and such, I thought that except for certain really great poets, the rules of poetry make it too hard to really get your point across.

Poetry seems to be all style, and to me, nothing but style.

I am not bashing poetry for others, just for me.


message 21: by Alex (new)

Alex Freakin' Tennyson.

(I actually like Tennyson quite a bit; I just thought this is the stage in the conversation where someone kinda has to bash him, so I might as well get it out of the way.)


message 22: by Kaion (last edited Mar 18, 2010 08:11AM) (new)

Kaion (kaionvin) Oooo, Dana, you need to read someone like Neruda. Shockingly direct. I'm with the reviewer who felt guilty reading The Captain's Verses in public. (Boy that makes me sound like a prude.)

Good point Susanna! Too bad I know nothing about poetry just about. I've been reading the same e.e. cummings selection book off and on for two years. (They're like word puzzles. Like the ones for the bad puns, like "there's no i in team").


message 23: by El (new)

El YES, Neruda! I just gave a loud shout-out here in the office. (Whatever, everyone thinks I'm crazy anyway.) Great combination of style and substance in poetry.

Thanks for throwing in a little hate, Alex. It was getting a little too touchy-feely in here. :)


message 24: by Alex (new)

Alex I'm here for you, El.


message 25: by Manday (new)

Manday | 212 comments I just read an awesome poetry book that completely lacked any style whatsoever - if you don't normally like poetry you should try it.

B Is for Bad Poetry


message 26: by Andreea (new)

Andreea (andyyy) | 117 comments Alex wrote: "You know what? Lolita. I love Nabokov's writing; I think it's dropdead gorgeous. But the plot bores me. Not due to squeamishness; I've read lots of books about lots of bad people doing lots of bad things. I can handle that. This particular plot just doesn't grab me."

But Nabokov's not just gorgeous, he's funny and engaging. He plays all sorts of tricks on his readers. There are so many things going on in Lolita beside the creepy plot, I can't imagine being bored. You keep asking yourself 'who is Lolita? why do the same names/situations keep showing up? ('enchantment' shows up quite a lot, if I remember it well) what's going to happen, how does Humbert Humbert end up in jail? who are the girls mentioned in the foreword? is there more to the story than I'm seeing?' and then on top of that you have the literary/linguistic games and the irony and the butterflies and it's just...so exciting to read.


message 27: by Kit (new)

Kit | 8 comments style is substance


message 28: by Alex (new)

Alex Actually a terrific point, Andreea. Well said.


back to top