…I have always been skeptical of the whole contemporary critical scene, in which the text is regarded as some immutable miracle, to be worshipped and dissected as if it were the story itself. What anyone trained as an editor or rewriter knows is that the text is not the story—the text is merely one attempt to place the story inside the memory of the audience. The text can be replaced by an infinite amount of other attempts. Some will be better than others, but no text will be “right” for all audiences, nor will any one text be “perfect.” The story only exists in the memory of the reader, as an altered version of the story intended (consciously or unconsciously) by the author. It is possible for the audience to create for themselves a better story than the author could ever have created in the text. Thus audiences have taken to their hearts miserably-written stories like Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs, because they receive transcended text; while any number of beautifully written texts have been swallowed up without a trace, because the text, however, lovely, did a miserable job of kindling a living story within readers’ memories.
(Orson Scott Card, Maps in a Mirror, 121-122)
Funny, because I find Tarzan of the Apes more engagingly written than anything I’ve read by Orson Scott Card. Seriously, though, this is the classic bad prose defence that Isaac Asimov deployed, and I just don’t buy it. Yes, there’s a complicated thing going on between reader and author, but part of that relationship lies in the way the words are shaped and fitted together. Prose is an essential part of telling the story, and there are some of us who just aren’t going to tolerate clunky prose because it mars the experience so much we don’t give a flying fig for plot, characters, and the like. The way you tell a story is intrinsic to the story itself.
As the “contemporary critics” would have it: There is only the text. Or, at least, the text is all the author can give to the reader, before setting off a whole new process called reading.
Deal with it.