The difference between mainstream fiction and literature is what writers do with words; the former places its emphasis on the story rather than the language used to tell that story; in literature, the language is the story; that is, the story is primarily a vehicle for a linguistic display of the writer’s rhetorical abilities.
(Steven Moore, The Novel: An Alternative History, p. 11)
What makes Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet great is not so much the story or the characters, which he filched from elsewhere (as he did for most of his plays), but his matchless rhetorical powers.
(Ibid., p. 13)
You’re not off to a good start here, Moore. You want to make this sharp distinction between “story and characters,” on the one hand, and “language,” on the other. But what about dialogue? What about first-person narration? Yes, when a character uses words, it is “really” the author using them — but then again, it’s also the character using them. And the way a character uses language can’t be cleanly separated from who the character is. (Unless you really want me to believe that the way someone speaks and writes has nothing to do with who they are. But surely you wouldn’t believe something like that — after all, you’re a literary man, a man who claims to care so much about the distinction between writers who “love language” and those who don’t . . . )
Isn’t it clear that when Shakespeare wrote the story of Romeo and Juliet in his own style, he changed the story? When he changed the way the characters talked, he changed the characters, period. Moore, are you really telling me that if you took a fictional character I love and stripped away that character’s own personal verbal style, they would be essentially the same character? That’s so far from being true that I don’t even know how to begin trying to reconcile your point of view with mine.