Wow, folks. It has taken me a while, but I have finally reached the last tip in the Writer’s Digest 25 Ways to Improve Your Writing in 30 Minutes a Day article. Whew! If you want to see all the posts about this article (in all their tarnished glory), check out my TIPS page.
Without further ado, here’s the last one:
Writers sometimes speak of style as if it were an ingredient to be added to their story or poem or memoir. Instead, style is the thing itself. E.B. White said it best, writing, “Style takes its final shape more from attitudes of mind than from principles of composition, for, as an elderly practitioner once remarked, ‘Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar.’” The key, then, to developing one’s style is to write, as White states, “in a way that comes naturally.”
Sound easy? It’s not. In fact, finding the “way that comes naturally” can take a lifetime, and the way can change with each piece you begin. One key to beginning that journey is to think about style not so much as a matter of addition, but subtraction—casting off feelings of awkwardness and self-consciousness, affectation and pretension. Focus on presenting your piece clearly, in a way that connects with readers. For practice, imagine a single reader sitting across a table from you. Spend a half-hour relating your piece to that reader, as clearly and honestly as possible. Spend another half-hour striving to make the piece more clear, more honest, more affecting. Then spend another half-hour making the piece more clear, more …
I like that Mr. Jack Heffron quoted E.B. White. No relation to the man (or anyone else by the name of White), but I like to think that my chosen name portents a similar legacy. (I can dream.)
Let’s focus on that last bit of Mr. White’s advice:
…write in a way that comes naturally.
Mr. Heffron advises to write clearly and honestly to find your style, to find what comes naturally.
Well, I wish someone had told me that before I started writing Devil’s Blood (or Blood Moon or whatever I decide to call it). I have no problem writing honestly, but that whole ‘clearly’ part is not a strength of mine.
Allow me to digress. (You have no choice, really, don’t know why I pretended to ask…) When I started writing Devil’s Blood, a historical fantasy novel set in Fifteenth Century Spain, I had vague aspirations of folks comparing my work to Miguel de Cervantes. Yes, that man of Don Quixote fame. I even titled my chapters exactly the same way as Mr. Cervantes did in his opus. I wanted to emulate Mr. Cervantes’ style of humor while describing dreadful and mundane attitudes and practices.
I was also inspired by another seemingly unrelated media: a film. The entire series is based on a woman named Lorena Libre. Yes, folks, like Nacho Libre!
Alas, trying to work in humor with religious issues worked for Mr. Cervantes, and the unlikely pair of Ignacio and Steven in Nacho Libre, but it didn’t work for me.
No one got it. No. One.
I suspect this has to do with three things (likely more, but you don’t want me to go on forever, do ya?):
- My writing is not clear. No one can tell if I’m joking or not. I have to figure out the subtle language of humor without resorting to emoticons. Not easy. If I want folks to laugh or smile at something, I have to make it clear that the reader is supposed to find an event, attitude, exclamation as funny (at times, in a macabre way).
- I’m trying too hard to sound like someone else. I gave that up a long time ago, but there is still residual wannabe-Cervantes-esque phrases that I use. I need to lay myself bare, and hope that something genuine takes the place of my long-winded and convoluted sentences.
- I don’t have a third thing to list here. Three is a much nicer number than two, far more propitious.
I may not find my style until I finish my seven-book series. Until then, I will practice writing clearly and honestly, and hope that in the end I will have learned enough so that I can go out confidently in public wearing crimson underwear. Just like this guy: