A Question of Style

Another thing I’ve been thinking about lately is author voice and distinctive writing styles. There are some folks, if you removed their byline from a story, you’d still be able to identify the work as theirs. There are Lovecraftian stories, and Chandler-esque stories. Heck, Dickensian is a word, and the computer knows it; it doesn’t even stick one of those squiggly red lines under it, making me question my very salt as a wordsmith. But is having a distinctive style always a good thing?

Hopefully, having a strong voice means your work is memorable, but is there a risk of your style becoming repetitive? Some stories beg to be told a certain way, first person, third person, past tense, multiple, fractured viewpoints – so should the technique fit the tale? Should an author re-invent themselves every time a new story needs to be told? Or is it possible to have it both ways, a strong reliable voice that perfectly fits the story no matter what, and never feels out of place?

As a reader, I appreciate it when authors are willing to take risks, try something new. It doesn’t mean their experimentation always works for me, but at least they put themselves out there and did something different. Where is the line between playing it safe and doing what you do best, writing as only you can? When you pick up a new book, or dive into a short story by an author whose previous works you’ve loved, do you secretly hope it will be just like the last thing you read by them, only more so, or do you want to see something new?

If an author uses punctuation in an unusual way, if they’re prone to short, clipped phrases, or long rambling descriptions, is it the equivalent of their signature, hidden on every page, or does it grate after a while? Are some tricks, for lack of a better word, best used sparingly, so they’ll have the maximum impact when they are used? Or are those flourishes the very definition of style?

Then there’s the question of authorial fetishes, individual elements or overarching themes that show up again and again an author’s work. I personally have a writing fetish for cigarettes, tattoos, green eyes, moonlight, and bones. As a reader, do you enjoy seeing common elements show up in an author’s work, or does it make you want to throttle them? As a writer, do your fetishes, your voice, or your style, ever feel like a crutch, or do they always feel like raw materials which you can use to build a motorboat, or a cathedral, or a roller coaster with equal ease?

For once, I’m not going to pretend to be a know-it-all and offer any answers. I’m just thinking aloud, and asking questions. I’d love to know your thoughts on the matter, if you’re so inclined to share.


Filed under Random Rambling, Writing

2 Responses to A Question of Style

  1. Maybe voice is a 2-way street – Some people, when someone says ‘voice’, think about style (Joyce, love him or hate him), others with a particular quotation (“It was the best of times…”), still others think about stylistic tics (Faulknerian sentence structure). Part is a distinct fingerprint of an author, but the other part is how we read what the writer has put on the page, whether we click with that, and whether or not our reading of it becomes a more general, accepted reading. How familiar we are with the style might become another way into understanding and appreciating the story.

    I wonder about how difficult it is for a new writer with a distinctly different style to get those first few publications?

    Jeesh. Apparently, Professor Fran is in the house today. More coffee, less words needed.

  2. I realize I kind of use voice and style interchangeably here, which I probably shouldn’t, but that’s what I get for thinking out loud and not really knowing what I’m trying to say! I vote for more coffee and more words, for both of us!

    When it comes to new writers with a distinct style, I think it definitely depends on the editor/publisher. Some are willing to take risks, and put their trust in an unknown quantity and some aren’t. It’s tough, from both sides of the equation. As an unknown, you haven’t earned the reader’s trust yet, so if you start doing crazy shit, they have no prior experience that guarantees you actually know what you’re doing and wherever you’re leading them is a place they want to be. But then, if no one ever trusts you long enough to give you a chance, how do you prove you’re trustworthy?