Style or Content?
The Interbellum Generation instigated a ferocious discussion in Dutch literature about ‘form or fellow’. This expression is nowadays not political correct, we would prefer ‘form or human being’. In case you are wondering about the issue at stake, the discussion concerns the adversary between the supporters of style and those concerned about content. This discussion has been rumbling on ever since, it is just the terminology that evolves: aesthetics versus street credit, purity of language versus engagement.
Last year I was tutoring a mature student who had written a thriller-like story which had no connection with her own experience except for the setting, a French village which was obviously very close to her heart. This resulted in quite a bland story. This year she had enough courage to write about her youth and from the point of view of a young girl, through fascinating fragments in which the young heroine has the upper hand over the reader. She had found her voice and the other participants were all ears. She had found and married content and style.
I strongly believe that you cannot separate form and content. Whatever your subject, you do not have to write from personal experience. Even if this is the case you will rearrange the facts to put it into a literary form. However what you write about has to be close to your heart, especially the theme.
Occasionally you realise that a writer has deliberately chosen to write about a fashionable subject. Quite often this ends in disaster. It works much better if what you write about comes from the depths of your being, if this also appeals to current fashion it’s a boon but it is not necessary.
Actually it’s the same for politicians. I am wary of a politician who says he will ask the voters for advice. However I do appreciate politicians who make their own point of view very clear, have an original way of conveying this and subsequently ask you to join them.
In conclusion: content or style? Well, both of course and preferably with a worthwhile theme.