Monday, April 7, 2008

A Cure for Style

What is a writing style and how do we get or avoid it and can it be cured?

Style is how you think because style runs deeper than just choice of word, topos, or trope. If it were otherwise, then parodies of Lovecraft or Hemingway would be as good as the best of the originals. They never are because they focus only on the glittery surface of style, not the thinking that led to those choices.

Writers with distinct voices don't rely on an aggregation of the elements of style. Instead, they think in a distinctive way. Vonnegut is a good example. His voice is much more in how he thinks than what word choices he makes, or what images he deploys. He makes us see things in new ways, from angles we may not have thought of before.

Yes, style can consciously be analyzed and reproduced. This can, as you pointed out, easily lead to self-parody. Hemingway ended up that way as his thinking was gradually scrambled and he clung more to method than manner of thought.

Recipe for style: Think twice, write once. Then rewrite for clarity and concision.

Yes, style shifts with mood and changes with need. Creating atmosphere specific to each tale may require a tone different with each.

As with actors, some styles always play themselves, others are recognized only upon seeing a by-line. Is your style to be movie star or character actor?

Style is either the putting on, or the taking off, of a mask of words.  It is either misdirection or revelation.  It is, most often, all these things at once, most of it done unconsciously.

It is obvious that a search for the right metaphor is part of my style, for instance. It is all rooted in how I think. Modeling is part of my makeup.

In no way am I advocating that art and artist are the same, please understand that. Art and artist, although obviously on intimate terms, often do not reflect each other, at least not in ways humanoid primates can explain. Vile reprobates can produce sublime sacred art and saints can produce the scurviest pornography - go figure.

Yet, at root, it's part and parcel with how they think. Whether it reveals, conceals, or does a bit of both inevitably, ultimately style is thinking because that is what influences preference and choice.

Jagger famously said It’s the singer, not the song. Diane Keaton in ANNIE HALL showed it was the person, not the clothes, that creates style.

Style is how, not what. Focusing on the what of style helps to parse it for each given writer but learning how to be true to one’s self is the deeply personal thing that produces real style.

To cure style simply write to another’s standards. Not only is this a simple, inexpensive cure, but a popular one, to judge by much of what’s published.

/// /// ///

No comments: