Tag Archives: voice

(Lack of) Style Points

Writer’s style is like …. it’s one of those weird things that I can’t stop thinking about. It’s this sort of indefinable quality we all have to our writing, and it’s hard to point to single passages and say “see, this exemplifies this author’s style because of this thing and that thing and also that other thing over there, and therefore their style is x”.

It’s one of those things you *feel* more than you quantify.

And styles change over time, too, just like people change. But I wonder about style in my own writing a lot, to the point I’m probably hyper aware of it. I write a passage, and I’m like, “does this sound like me?” Or more often the question is, “what does this even sound like?” Or even more often than that, “this is just totally boring and I hate the way I wrote it.”

It’s this weird hangup that has only really gotten worse with me the more I’ve written, which is weird, because everything you see everywhere about everything seems to suggest that the more you do a thing, the better you should get at it, but that doesn’t seem to be true for me and my style. I second-guess the hell out of myself and my style these days, and I never did back in the day. I could blow through over 1000 words in a session on my novel, then hop over here and fire off an 800-word blog post and never think a second thought about what I’d written or how I’d written it; all the words were good words.

Now, though? I’m afraid to even look back at what I wrote when I was starting out. Not because of the subject material — I’m sure that’s as cringey as anything I ever write under any circumstance. No, I’m terrified to look at my style back then, because I’m mindful of it now, and I fear that since I wasn’t mindful of it then, it’ll be a mess. (It’s there. I could look in the archives of this very website. But I dare not.)

Have I tied myself in enough knots? As if it’s not hard enough just to write the words down.

And it’s no use pretending not to care now that I do. You say “I don’t care what my writing sound like,” it’s as bad as the guy who purposely gives himself a bedhead, rumples up his shirt, and wears ridiculous shoes saying “I don’t care what I look like”. Like, yeah you do, man… you purposely cultivated that look to *look* like you don’t care.

It’s like one of those Magic Eye things. The image is entirely invisible to you until you finally see it, and once you see it, you can never not know it’s there.

The Thunderdome of Ideas

How do you make sense of the ideas that occur to you?

I’m talking here about stories, lyrics, visions, hell, even blarg ideas. They come from somewhere, and whether that source is some external stimulus like a news story or a fantastic article or a brilliant film or a gripping novel, they all end up getting filtered through the mire of neurons and synapses inside your skull. Which means that from the time an idea first strikes, it gets tossed into the Thunderdome that’s raging inside your head at any given moment.

Maybe I should step away from the second person (pardon me, second person) and stick to the first (oh, hi, me). It’s a Thunderdome in my head. Many ideas enter. Few survive to be acted upon.

Seriously. It’s a wonder I can get anything done. I’m as scatterbrained as they come, so when a new idea strikes for me, it’s thrown into the arena with the other millions of things I’m thinking about, which include, but are not limited to:

  • My kids and whether I’ve remembered to feed them / change their diapers / change their clothes / clean up their messes / set a good example for them / actually know where they are at the moment / OH GOD WHERE ARE THE KIDS
  • The dollars and cents flowing through all the metaphorical holes in my metaphorical pockets (because money isn’t real anymore you know, it’s all just ones and zeros on some bank program and okay this is not a conspiracy theory blog) and all the stress associated with that.
  • The fact that it’s winter, and in the four winters we’ve weathered in this house, we’ve had pipes freeze and burst in the walls twice despite our best efforts, so does winter number five mean that nightmare is coming around again…
  • The kids have been quiet for a while, WHAT IS MY TODDLER DOING
  • The scent of burning that’s coming from somewhere and I can’t isolate it… is it the neighbors burning leaves? A car burning oil? The wires in the walls spontaneously combusting and preparing to burn the house down?
  • The theme song from Thomas the Tank Engine just keeps bouncing around in there for no good reason; it certainly isn’t helping me to focus. (Sidenote: “shunt” is a fun word that sounds dirty but isn’t–meaning to shove aside or divert–try using it at parties!)
  • How the balls did my kid dump an entire two pounds of dog food into the water bowl without me hearing it?

And that’s just the past, say, thirty seconds.

So any idea I’m trying to have, whether related to my current novel or any other prospective novel I may ever conceivably get around to writing if I ever finish this one, has to step into the steel cage death match with these other thoughts if it wants to win my focus long enough to be pondered, let alone written down and saved for later. And these other thoughts take no prisoners. They have nailbats and rusty crowbars and spiked shoes. That Thomas theme song carries around a friggin’ garrote in its pocket and will dispatch an interloping idea without batting an eye.

Somehow… somehow… some ideas make it through the riot of distractions and make it into the novel. I’m working on weaving in a particularly good one that occurred to me a few weeks ago while I was writing a blarg post about how I was stuck for ideas about how to improve my draft. Did it arise out of need? Was it the strongest of a series of weak, malformed conceptions of various other plot points I could have used instead, and the strongest survived? Or did it blunder through, catching the toddlers during a nap and catching that Thomas theme song looking the other way long enough to escape into daylight?

I have no idea where the ideas come from or how they get processed. I feel like if I did I’d be a tremendously better writer, and I could therefore avoid unnecessary and cumbersome adverbs in my prose, like “tremendously,” to choose a particularly egregious offender completely at random. Also egregious offenders: “particularly,” “completely,” and “egregious” (not an adverb but still offensive).

See, the idea to sidetrack into all that nonsense about adverbs came from somewhere, I decided it was a good detour to make and I made it. Somebody (even if that somebody is me) sent that message, and somebody (probably me) received it and acted on it.

Where does that impulse come from?

Is that my authorial text-transcending through-line? Is it an undercurrent of subconscious thematic tendency? Or did whoever’s pulling the strings in my writerly Thunderdome take pity on the adverb idea and give it a set of poison-tipped spiked brass knuckles to help it in the fight?

I fear this is one of those unknowable things that philosophers might struggle with through the ages, though they’d perhaps do it more eloquently than with Thunderdomes and brass knuckles. And they’d certainly steer clear of Thomas the Tank Engine and any associated theme songs.

This post is part of SoCS. This week’s prompt was the diabolical homonym quartet of “sense / scents / cents / sent”, a series of words which basically describes why anybody learning English as a second language might end up banging his head against a wall. Because I’m a fool for pain, I used them all.


Forty Two Pages

Another week in the bag, another few thousand words on the page. I finished today’s writing on page 42, which has a happy significance for me.
You sci-fi geeks out there won’t need me to explain this, but my wife will.  Seeing as she reads this pile from time to time, it’s better if I don’t leave her in the dark.
42 is, of course, the answer to the Grand question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, as posited by the late, great Douglas Adams in the first book of his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.  However, of course, the question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, is rather ill-defined, and so he defined it in the third book, Life, the Universe, and Everything.  The question, it turned out, was (is?) “What do you get when you multiply six times nine?”  This nonsense question-and-answer was representative of the absurdity of both the book series itself and, in proper artistic fashion (life imitating art and all that – wait, no, I got that backward – wait, no, I didn’t), of the whole of existence as the author himself saw it.
I’m conjecturing, of course, but I think it’s fair to say that Adams, himself an avowed atheist, saw the world as a whole sort of general mish-mash, a more or less random collection of atoms, molecules, compounds and quarks that followed their own rules about how to behave, even if those rules are indecipherable to the best of us.  Nine times six equals forty-two?  Well, that’s just life, innit?
Anyway, Douglas Adams was and is one of the only authors whose work I could read anywhere, anytime, and under any circumstances and both a) enjoy it and b) learn something about myself or the world (usually myself). He spins a haberdashery of a yarn, and he’s funny at the same time.  His characters are so distinctive — each with their bizarre individual quirks, yet each one choice with Adams’s signature wit and pacing.  He’s kind of my writing spirit guide, and every time I’ve tried my hand at writing, especially when I practice informal writing (like ye Olde blarg), I find myself gravitating toward emulating his style.  It makes me nostalgic for a time when I was first discovering that literature could be not only enjoyable, but could actually impact a person’s life.  Believe it or not, high-school me could barely give a sharknado about Shakespeare or Fitzgerald or really any instance of the written word.
But we grow up, don’t we?  We grow up and we branch out, and as I travel down this lonely road of writing my first (okay, that’s optimistic, but times like these call for a bit of optimism so, DonDraper it, I’m gonna be optimistic) novel, those divergent paths are catching my eye more and more.  I am painfully aware that, as much as I enjoy writing in this style I’ve modeled on the late Mr. Adams, it’s exactly that, an emulation rather than my own creation.  Does it work?  I suppose that’s ultimately up to my readers to judge (and I have at least 25 of you out there now; thanks for following!).  I feel like it does.  But use like an Elvis impersonator can only throw so many pelvic thrusts or “awuh-huh”s about before he begins to feel a little empty inside, so too I feel the creeping sensation that this style of mine may actually ring a bit hollow. It’s not a thing that needs addressing right this minute, or maybe even not on this novel, but it’s starting to nag at me in a way that is obviously not going to stop anytime soon.  I’m probably over thinking it – I over think everything. 
No favorite passage today; I got the writing done but none of it really sang for me.  It felt utilitarian, and I don’t even know if what I wrote today will survive the first edit.  The character in question is turning out to be awfully mean and I just don’t know if it makes sense for him to be quite so mean.  Vindictive.  A villain doesn’t make sense if he’s only a villain for the sake of getting in the hero’s way — he has to make sense and work as a character in his own right.  Gotta stay focused on that.  I think I need to bring this guy back to center a little bit.
Okay, enough of this ramble.  When I return to the project I’ll be moving on past page 42.
Instead of my own favorite passage, I’ll leave with one from Adams, a useful one for writers everywhere:

“The only moral it is possible to draw from this story is that one should never throw the letter Q into a privet bush, but unfortunately there are times when it is unavoidable.

Funny, I seem to recall DA using a lot more punctuation than that.

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