This last week on his blog, Nathan Bransford asked which is more important, creativity or craft? I'm not sure exactly what the distinction between the two is -- does "creativity" include experimentation with format or language a la Joyce, for example, or does it merely refer to ideas? -- but I have to say that I'm probably a craft person myself. Like, if you forced me to chose one over the other, I would pick the writer who is a strong writer over the one who has super original ideas.*
I'm not exactly sure why I would make that choice, but I'm certain that I would.
Maybe it's because I spent so many years studying English and so don't put a premium on "new" ideas (because they're mostly not actually new).**
Maybe it's because I don't look for "ideas" in my stories, either the ones I read or the ones I write. I don't respond to the ideas of the story, I respond to the execution of the ideas. It's why I can read certain books over and over and over again--they aren't groundbreaking stories, most of them, but they are so well-done that I get lost in them every time.
I do know that I'm not one of those literary-o-philes, one of those readers (or writers) who fall in love with the prose itself.*** I admire a well turned phrase as much as anyone who wants to write for a living, but I don't read for prose itself. Certain novels that shall remain nameless have left me cold because they were beautifully written but emotionally unengaging. So does that mean that, actually, the creativity is what matters instead of the craft?
No. What I need is a well-told story with a heart. I don't need a big idea, although there can certainly be one there. I don't need formal experimentation, although that can certainly work for me. I don't need something "new," although I wouldn't turn it down. What I need is a story that makes an emotional connection, and for me, that means the craft needs to be able to bear my suspension of disbelief. If it can't, I'm going to come crashing down to earth, and the book is going to go crashing into a wall.
* Although it would be pretty close, like 65/35.
** True story -- when I was in grad school some friends and I went to see Pulp Fiction. My friends were blown away by the movie and kept going on and on about how original and creative it's asynchronous format was. I was...unimpressed. It was amusing and all, but telling a story out of order did not exactly seem groundbreaking to me. In other words, I didn't see what the big deal was.
*** I'm the same with movies--some of my friends are the kind of people who can watch a movie and enjoy it if it's "beautifully shot" even if the story doesn't make sense or the characters are lame. I am not one of those people.