|Style of Writing and Literary Fiction|
Monday, January 4th, 2010
There is a common belief that the best literary writing style is invisible to the reader. This has a fundamental, but not all-inclusive, truth to it. In writing great literary fiction, the reader should be engaged in the story in ways that leave no mental space to consider the writer's style type or quality. Yet the style of writing and story telling should register with readers so that at the end of the reading, they know they've had special, unforgettable reads that are unmistakeably due to the author's style, personality and skills.
Style is a way of using language and forming an effective, pleasurable story. So, style really is everything a writer does in creating: thousands of ideas and choices; hundreds of associations and comparisons; myriads of opinions, images, feelings . . . all dependent on the writer's intelligence, experience, education, memory, imagination and creative integrity. Writing great literary stories is creating as only you, the writer, can, from the uniqueness of your personal existence as a human, and your time in the existence of all humanity, that contributes to a specific conscious era of thought and abstract reasoning. It is the opportunity for writers to create their own style that provides fresh ideas and beautifully original stories – only they can create – for readers.
Almost all writers succumb to the influence of successful writers before them. Reading the works of an author, appreciating the style of writing, and then incorporating that writer's style in your own writing is not, however, the way to achieve memorable, great writing and storytelling. A careful reader will always feel the impression of another author in the writing, and publishers mistakenly feel that marketing blurbs such as, "He writes with the grace of Chekhov, the perception of Cheever, and the bite of Flannery O'Connor," will convince a reader they are about to experience a great writer. Not at all. Such comparisons may sell books to readers who love these authors, but it is not a valid signal for that great literary fictional story, uniquely created, that will be remembered by many for generations.
Writers need to strive to find expression of their own individuality in life on the page and in their story telling. That is where excellence is achieved, reader pleasure generated, and memorability instilled. And it does not come from copying the style of a favorite author. The opposite, in fact. The influence of another author can be so dominant that some authors do not read when they are in the creative process. An author reading Flannery O'Connor, for example, especially if the author likes Flannery O'Connor, can shove the writing process and product into "the style" of O'Connor. This, when perceived, even subconsciously, by a reader, is never useful and destroys the uniqueness of a writer's style for greatness and sustainability as a great piece of writing. Of course, in learning, writing in the style of a favorite author is essential to develop as a writer, and a writer should be able to test the effectiveness of a story or a passage or a line of dialog by practicing writing the passage as he or she might imagine other authors would approach it. But in the final work of art, the style must be created from the core of a writer's individuality . . . his or her unique style.
Aristotelian thinking applies here. Historians, he said, write about what has happened. They describe the past. Writers (the poets) write about what might happen next. These are the imaginative, dramatic creators of great literature. It is in creating what might happen that the literary fiction writer develops that unique, enjoyable, informative style that fertilizes greatness.
William H. Coles