In a letter to Quill & Quire, Wayne Jones, currently head of Central Technical Services at Queen’s University Library in Kingston, Ontario, writes, in part:
There are piles of historical fiction in Canada and elsewhere not because the national character as a whole is longing for explanations of its present through its past, but because it allows authors to bypass style and attention to language in favour of the much easier demands of merely a good yarn. The core of the story may be simplistic and the literary ability absent, but if it’s dressed up in the facts and clothes and mores of a hundred years ago, perhaps readers won’t notice.
His concluding sentence:
Anyone with a library card or an Internet connection can research settings and facts, but only a select few can actually put together a sentence that will make you teary with its aesthetic beauty.
The “much easier demands of merely a good yarn?” Please. There’s nothing easy about constructing a “good yarn.” In fact, I would argue that a “good yarn” is more important to a successful story than “a sentence that will make you teary with aesthetic beauty.” (Or a sentence as hyperbolic as that one.)
“Good yarn” is precisely what you need to use to weave a story that will entertain, enlighten–and endure. A story made of good yarn can be worn close to your skin for years, until, like a favorite wool sweater, it almost becomes a part of you. But without that good yarn, fiction, no matter how beautiful it may seem on the surface, will unravel and collapse into nothing more than a pile of pretty colored scraps and bits of thread, soon swept away and forgotten.
*Sniff.* Darn, now I’ve made myself all teary-eyed.