Substance and Style – which is more important?

Instead of the quite trite ‘Happy New Year’, if you say ’May you meet your soul-mate this New Year’ to a person who has been looking for the right life-partner for what has seemed like an eternity, you will have said something very nice and pleasant. Your wish is bound to put some spark and optimism into that person’s mood and life. When being introduced to a lovely lady, if a man says ‘Charmed!’ the lady is liable to be pleased, not to mention the reaction it might cause in her male companion. Often, rhetoric carries the day when substance sans felicity falters.

What is then supreme, substance or style? In a story, true or imaginative, which produces the telling effect upon the reader? Do those who bemoan their ability to tell a story well deserve our sympathy and understanding? Will the tales of the inarticulate, intrinsically capable of causing speechless awe, remain untold? Arguably, substance and style both matter, yet they are perhaps so inseparably united, especially in a work of sublime beauty, that it becomes impossible to distinguish or determine their individual bestowal to the work. Just as the incisive skill of a surgeon has to go hand in hand with an extensive knowledge of anatomy in order for him to perform a successful surgery, a writer’s eloquence should attend upon his experience.

With command and clumsiness, we handle language in love and hate, praise and ridicule, boast and modesty. Of something that has overwhelmed us, we say ‘Oh it’s too good for words! And, of a splendid writer, we say ‘There’s no thought or feeling that his pen can’t capture! – Substance and style constantly compared and commented upon!


About Vaidy

Freelance writer based in Chennai, India. Writes in English and Tamil. Recent major assignments have been in Transcreation - adaptation of TV Commercials from English to Tamil.
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