Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[process] The elementals of style

Over on his LJ, manmela is musing about style. I responded in comments:
For me, style is a tool just as much as plot or character or POV or pacing or tension or anything else in the kit. Sometimes a story needs riotously rococo language, while other pieces want clean, crisp, linear diction. Which is to say, I suspect you may be setting yourself up with a false dichotomy.

Suggestion: Write a flash fiction or a short scene in both modes. Same plot, setting, character; but one in high literary, the other almost starkly flat. See what that does for you.

I think one issue here is that style is readily confused with voice. In my own view, I can control style, but voice arises holistically from my work. I can write in any number of styles — arguably, in too many styles — but I can only write in my voice. This bit of thinking had probably been unpacked into a number of doctoral dissertations, and I may come back to it in a lengthier post myself. (I'm pretty sure I've covered the topic before.)

For now, consider these, written off the cuff as I draft this blog post.
Ruler-lined skyscrapers blocked the light. Even the alleys had been laid out with the rigid obsessiveness of a Dutch architect. I wondered where they kept the trash cans in this town, everything was so clean. The rats probably marched in unison when they ran from the cats.

Skyscrapers soared straight as missiles aimed at heaven, their granite contrails blocking the least of the sun's favor from the manic grid of the streets in this place. Even the alleys were locked into the relentless logic of an obsessive-compulsive working in a pencil factory. They were so damned clean that someone must have made the trash cans look like kitchen doors, because I never saw a singe bin. I figured when the cats came trotting on little fog feet even the rats ran like Prussians on parade

Did that prove anything? I'm not sure. To me, they're both recognizably my work. But each one lends itself to a rather different story telling. Literary gamesmanship? Maybe, and certainly in the context of this post. But tools for a job. Everything is, really.

One last note. I'm of the opinion you can be taught anything and everything about writing except voice. Voice comes from within. So give the two-styles exercise a shot, here in comments or on your own blog. See if it tells you anything.

Originally published at jlake.com.

Tags: process, writing

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