A Note on Developing Style

Have you ever heard the phrase “the bare bones of a story”? Well, a story is like a body in every way, I found today. How? Well:

The basic themes of a story – love, loss, friendship, war, etcetera – are the organs. The overall structure, the timeline of important events – such as the marriage of Jane and Bob, when Simon’s mum dies and Chloe finally confesses her love for him (or similar) – are what make up the skeleton. The muscles, veins, nerves, tendons, and everything else there is between skin and bone, are all the little incidents that aren’t really important, but flesh out the story, so to speak, and bolster the climax, as well as helping both the writer and the reader get to know the characters – like the time Chloe was late for work because she had lost her car keys (again). While this may not come in handy later, it will serve to reinforce the idea that Chloe is disorganised. Description is fat: it gives the story shape and insulates it, a little bit is needed, but too much will bog the story down and stop it from reading well. And lastly, the skin is the story itself: you can plan and plan until the world stops turning, but there is nothing to read until you at last put pen to paper and write some actual words. The skin is, in short, the exact phrasing you use, what the reader actually sees, similar to the way one never sees muscles and fat and bones when they look at somebody else, all they see is their skin. All are needed to make a story work, and no single part is more important than the others. (Here the metaphor runs out, as organs are decidedly more important than skin.) However, it can be picked back up again with the fact that all bodies are different. Ones from the same family are similar, as stories by the same author are similar. We as teenagers are constantly being told that different people find different body sizes attractive, a fact which did not affect my life at all, but has now found its use in this analogy, as different readers enjoy different styles of story. I personally like reading (and writing) Girls’ Own, delightful and light-hearted stories from a long-ago time when girls played outside and ate buns for tea, and went to boarding school and played pranks on their fellows between grumbling about prep and playing in lacrosse matches, but that’s a matter of taste. No doubt you can wax poetic about your favourite genre.

And the English teacher I had a few months ago who made me want to start this blog and who – ahem – taught us how to write stories equipped only with her tiresome refrain of “No, no, no!” represents the multi-billion pound diet industry, which everybody listens to, despite the fact that it spouts a load of nonsense, and wants all bodies to be the same, but that’s a post in itself.

But real stories are not all the same, because real writers have style. Style encompasses both the phrasing used and the genre each writer leans towards. I did not think of this until this morning’s visit to the local library, when I picked up a new book by an author whose first series I enjoyed, the wonderful Pseudonymous Bosch. Similarities between this book, Bad Magic, and the series I had liked, the Secret series, instantly jumped out at me. How this book is NOT a book I want to read. It does NOT have another plucky and likeable hero, nor does it have magic and adventure and laughs. It also told me to Put This Book Down and Run for Your Life. He has a style.

Do not stress because you do not have a style. I did that for you. I was quite beside myself at some points. However, reading my own work, I noticed that I was leaning towards chaotic humour (which wasn’t always funny), privileged heroines, a pure and precious sort of air, where all my protagonists, no matter what sort of danger they were placed in, always came out on top. There is no real advice I can give you about style, because it comes naturally, without the author (and sometimes the reader) noticing. I will instead advise you to look back through your own writing, as far back as you dare (I cringed when I read a story I wrote when I was ten, and did not look for anything older), and make a list, whether in your head or on paper, of all the similarities you can find. This is your style.

I’m not saying that you have to include everything on your list in every story you write. That would make your stories monotonous. (I’m sorry if I’m stomping all over anybody’s childhood, but Enid Blyton is a prime example.) One of the things that makes your style your style is that it comes without thought. And anyway, style can change, especially when the author is still young. I began attending my school Creative Writing Club a few weeks ago after about a year away. The school librarian, who runs it, read my plan and remarked “Wow, Viola! Your style has changed a lot!” and I thought “Has it? I hadn’t really noticed.”

But consistent or changing, style is what makes the writer’s world go round. Feel free to experiment. However, most of what pops into your head will be consistent with your style. I myself would never produce a story like the one I cobbled together when I was still banging on about muscles and bones and all the rest. If all authors wrote the same, nobody would ever be interested in reading. Everybody would just be reduced to watching TV shows they don’t even like (like some people I could mention, but won’t, because of internet safety and the rest) because there is nothing better to do. Style is what adds enjoyment to both reading and writing. Forget plot and dialogue and dilemma and the rest, style is the real star of the show! And it’s style that sorts the naturals from the ones who are only writing because they have to, in the case of children, or because they think it’s easy money (it’s not), in the case of adults. Style is what marks out a person who’s willing to invest time and effort into their little fictional baby, someone who’s not going to turn out something token and say “Will this do?” because they think it’ll get them marks. Someone who’s writing for the sheer enjoyment and the thrill of it, of creating something bigger than yourself, and knowing that others will enjoy it.

So Mrs. Diet Industry can stick that on her needles and knit it!

To the good of your tale, and apologies for the rant,

Viola.

Introduction

Good afternoon. I am Viola l’Ecrivaine, young writer, author of fanfiction, member of FictionPress, and amateur novelist, and I wish to welcome you to my new blog, A Way with Words. I do hope that you find it useful.

I began to write almost as soon as I learned enough words, and so that leaves me with just over a dozen years of experience. When one has been writing for a very long time, one often looks back at one’s past work, and thinks “What on Earth was I thinking?!” In other words, over the years, many times, I have failed. However, as, undoubtedly you will know, dear reader, from the ashes of a failure, comes the scented smoke of a lesson. This blog is a space for me to share all the lessons of my failures with you: in other words, I fail so that you don’t have to!

This blog is aimed mostly at people like me: teenagers who are serious about writing, and are perhaps looking at publication, and so want to make their writing perfect. However, if that does not apply to you, still feel free to drop in and have a read. I do hope that everybody will find something useful! I can assure you that I still have very far to go down the long, twisting, winding, and often misleading road to perfection, but the object of this blog is to help you take that journey, and to avoid tripping up in all the potholes that I tripped up in!

Of course, my word isn’t law, and wouldn’t we all be in a spot of bother if it was, and some of these tips won’t suit your writing style, but hopefully we can still have some fun along the way! Expect examples, rants, warnings of traps, myth-debunking (a favourite sport of mine!) and all else that relates to the written word, hopefully flavoured with the spice of humour that everybody loves.

To the good of your tale,

Viola