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Monday, December 13, 2010

Do I have a style?

All creative people ask themselves this question sooner or later, usually sooner, and frequently – tragically – uncertain whether they have a style, and strangely deluded that having a style is necessary or even desirable, they set out to acquire one.
I have one novel in print, a novella on Kindle, a novel forthcoming, and am at work on yet another. They are very different stories, but any reader would recognize them as being by the same author. I definitely have my own style, but the more experienced I become, the more I struggle against it.

What are some of the hallmarks of the Martin style? Well, one thing I like to do is start a sentence with an interjection, such as “well,” then go into a series of digressions, making each as lengthy as I can, but all the while trying to maintain a fluidity and coherence – readability above all else, is what I say – until I have a sentence of say, fifty to a hundred words, maybe rounding all the bases with a good sports metaphor, and then contrasting it by following it with a very short sentence or even sentence fragment. Like this one.

Another Martinism is a species of pun, (By the way, I also love using the word species to refer to nonliving things.) which is not exactly a zeugma (Look it up, Chuckles.) but something like a zeugma. There will be a noun, a verb, a preposition and then two nouns joined by a conjunction; the first noun is literal and concrete and the second is abstract and metaphorical. Here’s an example, “He choked on his pastrami sandwich and rage.” “The box was filled with broken glass and disappointment.” You get the idea. You could rattle off things like that all day. So could I. That’s the problem. If it gets too easy, it becomes lazy.

The problem is, the writers who have a very conscious style are ultimately hamstrung by it. The style becomes an end in itself, and the writing is diminished. I’m not a big fan of Hawthorne or Poe. Too much style. I am a fan of Dickens but frequently it’s in spite of, not because of, his style.

This is not to say writing shouldn’t be stylish. Being stylish is (usually) a matter of using words precisely, matching your sentence structure to your meaning, being vivid, clear, forceful, and original. That’s just good writing. If you find yourself affecting some taletell mannerism – or is it telltale?– such as interrupting the flow of your sentence to ask rhetorical questions or inserting (needless) parenthetical statements, coining wordagisms, or worst of all, making punctuation do your work for you… These should all be warning signs of a style beginning to metastasize.

Style is something that comes naturally; it doesn’t need to be forced or fostered. Don’t worry about not having a style. You have a style already. Worry about that.

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