WFC Panel: Style or Substance

wfc 028Friday at the convention was full of interesting panels. “Style or Substance in Fiction” was at Midday.

Panellists were: Pat Cadigan, Jack Dann, Ellen Kushner, Ian R. MacLeod, Geoff Ryman and Lisa Tuttle.

My Notes

– Being precise is a key lesson for a writer. We were directed to read an essay titled “About 5750 Words”.

– Being a literature student can be a major block to being a science fiction reader.

– Ellen Kushner spoke about how writer’s have choice, and the choices we make create our personal style. 

– Some people more emphasis on plot/prose over the other, but one of the comments was that plot (substance) sells. It sells better when it’s twinned with style, though. One of the panellists commented “If style doesn’t matter, you end up with The Da Vinci Code.” [I’ve not read it, so no comment.] The message I received was: Ideally, be good at both. Ellen said “If you write great plots you might be alright.”

– Geoff Ryman talked about emotions needing to be really readable and connect with the world. He emphasised the need to be descriptive and emotive.

– A writer’s voice can be seen in 3 sentences – 3 paragraphs. This resonated with me because Brandon Sanderson talks about being able to tell an amateur pianist from a brilliantly learned one in just a minute of listening to them play.

– “If you don’t honour your plot, it’ll bite you in the bum.” – Geoff Ryman.

– Some styles won’t suit certain characters.

On Finding Voice

– Your style is the rhythm of your sentences.

– Trust your subconscious.

– You can’t think – Start with tone of voice, and work your way into plot.


I’m aware that this recap is just a bunch of quotes, because that’s what I wrote down. I think I got a lot from this panel, but that it kind of seeped in subconsciously. I haven’t made any conscious changes to my work due to it, but have had a lot of time thinking and reading other’s work to look at this.

What are your views on style versus substance?

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