Cullen’s Swerving Style Soliloquy

Righty-o, let’s just pretend that slight (ha, you get it? Because it’s huge!) gap in posts isn’t there and move right on to something I’ve already talked about. Oh, don’t make that face, I promise this will include at least one new idea per hundred words. Maybe. I’m not terribly consistent with my promises, you see.

Anyway, I’ve mentioned style at least once here (I think it was that post about knights and samurai from a year ago), but I’m not sure I’ve ever explained what I think that means as a writer. Allow me to correct this egregious oversight posthaste! Since I am (according to me) a novelist, I’m going to do this through said meandering expositional lens.

Let’s suppose you’ve come up with an idea for the next great (adjective for country of origin here) novel. Your characters, plot and setting are all swirling nicely into shape from the twisted miasma of your foggy nerve-stew of a brain. You type the whole thing up and present it to an editor, and he/she/it cocks an eyebrow/pseudopod and observes, “This is very dry reading, I suggest you spice it up a bit.” Shock! Dismay! But your characters have so many likable traits! You thought everything out so carefully!

Ah, my dear friend, you didn’t examine your prose, did you? All that focus on what you were writing, and you completely forgot to perk up how you wrote it! No one’s going to care how fascinating the feisty protagonist’s quirks are if you describe them with the same dulcet tones we get out of a 1400 page biography of  His Excellency the Duke of Boravia! What you need is something special, something that’ll reach out, grab the reader and say, “IF YOU DON’T READ THIS I WILL EAT YOUR LIMBS!” Actually, on second thought, it’s better to make the reader feel they deserve to have their limbs eaten if they don’t FINISH WHAT THEY’VE STARTED. Threatening people to make them buy your art is very naughty.

There are all sorts of styles out there that may help or hinder you in your quest to write Things Worth Reading(TM). For a novelist, I say avoid the Low style at all costs. It might be argued that the aforementioned style, due to its excessive correctness, general lack of energy or emotion, and tendency towards imposing truly draconian rules upon its adherents, could conceivably make for a boring read. Low style, as I’ve just snarkily noted, also has teensy issues with irony.

So this leaves you with Middle and High styles, and these two have issues of their own. Middle Style is just that: stuck awkwardly between the ramrod-spine marching of Low Style, and the airy insanity of maxed-out High Style. Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty flexible and gives you some nice wiggle room, but true Middle is mostly hacked together from a mess of cliches, stereotypes and recycled words. It’s not bad, not really, but it is overused to hell and gone. I hope you’re ready for a shocker: people are more likely to notice things they haven’t seen before. Who knew, right? So if you have a nice turn of phrase, or throw in some more esoteric verbiage (prime examples including ‘esoteric verbiage’), your readers are way more likely to remember you.

If you do this often enough, and do it well, you’ll start getting known for it, and then folks will actively seek out your writing in order to ‘hear’ your unique voice. ‘Voice’ in this little instance refers to your particular style of writing, that little flair of pure Youness that your more fanatical fans will be able to pick out of a thousand other authors in your genre. But be warned, friend, lest ye stray too far from the path of understanding, and plunge forevermore into the abyss of Iconoclastry!

If you use it right, Iconoclasm is mostly a good thing; it’s just the particular way in which you deliberately flout the rules. If you come up with a really brilliant analogy for something that makes perfect sense, and yet no one’s ever used before, that’s a form of iconoclasm. Thing is, if you come up with a god-awful analogy that your audience can’t wrap their eyes around (wonder what images that gives you), you can’t blame them when they throw your book away and never buy any of the others. It’s good to break the rules when you know it works. Just, don’t apply that to anything other than art, if you please.

But if all you care about is being totally unique, you’re going to write a niche piece. Kudos to you for having the guts to do that, but at that point you’re writing something entirely for yourself, almost spitefully shoving your readers back out to arms’ length.

And this is the hardest thing about style, for me: I don’t think any single approach is enough. It takes a lot of time and effort to start blending all these forms together into something that works well, and a lot more still before the something you’ve created is The Something Which Belongs to You.

Oh, and try not to type several hundred words before you realize you may not have addressed your own ideas fully. ‘Cause, you know, that’d sure be silly.

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