Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Your Style

Your writing style can make or break your career as a writer. When your audience reads your work, they expect to be entertained, just as if they were watching a movie. It’s your job to deliver what the readers are looking for. You may have a great story in your head, but if you are unable to effectively communicate that onto paper, your story will be passed up for the next one. The next question is, how do you captivate the people that read your work?

You need to decide first who you are and distance yourself mentally from your favorite writers. I said before that you should read a lot, but one mistake that you may find yourself making is writing like the authors you love. I once wrote a short, page-long part of a story, and at the time I was deep in Ted Dekker’s Black. It’s a great novel, with elements of fantasy, political thriller, and mystery, but the story segment I wrote too much resembled how Dekker writes. It was raw, a little dark, and kind of chilling. In other words: the words were mine, but style was not. I have since rewritten the passage to better suit the story. I have my own style, and I always did, but for many years, I tried to be like other authors. Tolkien, Lewis, and Coville were some of my inspiration. My characters became some mix between Hobbits, the Pevensies, and quite tragically noble unicorns. I look back and laugh out loud at my earliest work. Ironically, it’s my journals that make me laugh less.

Those journals are where my personality comes through because they’re parts of a chronicle of my life. They’re real, sometimes funny, and sometimes painful, and sometimes a little bit weird. (One journal page from fifth grade features an old Band-aid scrawled with names of Star Wars characters and stuck to the page, which is itself in possession of a grease spot from Neosporin.) In short, they are me at different stages of life.

A great way to develop your style is to write in a journal on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be every day. It can be every week or every few days, as long as it is regular. Don’t try to make up stories; just tell your own. The way you tell your own story will be a clue as to how you will tell other stories that you invent.

When writing your own story, you need material. Don’t worry, your life doesn’t have to be dramatic and exciting all the time. What’s important is that you take time to experience life and incorporate your experiences in your writing. Feel free to edit or change stories to use in fiction, but never discount your life because it isn’t “exciting enough.” Write what you know. Write the places you’ve been and the people you’ve seen. (On a side note, try to avoid writing about places and people you haven’t seen. Getting the facts wrong because you’ve never been to New York City, Seattle, or Atlanta can be insulting. I’ve never met a New Yorker who is as rude in real life as his fictional counterpart usually is, and I can tell you as a native Southerner: we don’t drawl sentences. I’ll cover this subject more in depth later).

Inject your take on life into your work. You may see things differently, and that can be refreshing for readers. Be different, but avoid being different for the sake of the shock value. If you don’t feel comfortable with a certain style, don’t write it. The big deal now may be paranormal romances with various non-human love interests (vampires and werewolves are big, but I’m seeing more books about tortured angels falling in love), but if your work reeks of a trend, then it won’t last and will most likely be seen as another way to cash in on your joining a bandwagon. Write in a style that is exciting, because even the mundane is fascinating when the words describing it are superbly chosen.

My brother once said that some of the best bands don’t write to be famous. They write what is in their hearts. They pour who they are into their work, and it is usually quality music. Their work is successful not because it is the latest thing, but because it’s so very real. Your writing style should reflect who you are, because then you will know that what you write rings true and pulls your readers in to your story to get lost for a little while until you lead them back out again. After that, they’ll trust you with the next story.

Coming soon: a preliminary review of Feather by Abra Ebner. I'm in the process of re-reading it now and I'm really looking forward to sharing what I have found about it. Stay tuned!

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