Writing Style

In my odd bits of free time (like when I get stuck for what’s going on in a novel and I can’t figure out how I can get the protagonist to do something I need them to do, or else I’m just avoiding doing the dishes) I scroll through, and read, writing “how-tos” on the internet.

There are a lot of them. If you type in, say, “how-to-plot-your-novel” or “how-do-you-write-a novel”, you will get literally thousands of hits, all from people with really impressive writing credentials or with degrees in Creative Writing or highly successful editors of highly successful books.

The question of “writing style” comes up a lot, and in both cases, they give you a lot of technical advice. Some writers advocate quite organized, rational approaches – a kind of formula, if you will – involving story boards, 3×5 notecards, and categories of things you need to decide in advance. Worldbuilding, Character Attributes, Themes, Modalities, Voice, you name it – someone has a schematic on exactly how to do this. Some sites advocate three-step, five-step, eight-step systems, or plot-pyramids, or the “rising action” scheme, or suggest you make little word-clouds to discover what your novel Is Really All About.

Then there are the jargonized professorial dictates: first-person, second-person, third-person (who are all these people?) omniscient point of view, unreliable narrators – and you are, I guess, supposed to slot yourself and your writing into a category and then learn the rules that pertain to that.

I’ve read literally at least a hundred of these things, and to be quite honest, I still don’t know where I fit in.

I know that I write best in “first person”, but beyond that, I can’t tell anyone a whole lot about “my writing style”. I used to think (because I don’t try to map out my entire book ahead of time: essentially, I know where it starts, where the approximate middle is, and how it will end, more or less, but very little else) that I was a “pantser”, which is short for “writing by the seat of your pants” – neither you nor the writing deities know what could happen, you just start writing and find out.

But I’m not really that, either. I let the characters live in my head, sometimes for quite a while, but I also make notes. What kind of childhood did they have? What is it they really want out of life? Do they have any money? How much faith have they got in themselves? If they punch someone in the nose, do they feel bad about it after?

I also try to figure out what would be their worst fear, and then I usually serve it up to them, because it’s more fun that way. Periodically, during the actual writing, I noodle around with various ideas, motives, weird happenings, other characters’ back stories, and what kind of geography might exist locally that would influence the action. I’ve never really mapped out the world on paper, but I have a pretty good mental picture of it.

So I don’t “just wing it”. I thought I did, but I don’t. I’m just not able to methodically figure out and organize all the intricate details into some Grand Plan, because I have the sneaking suspicion that if I did that, I would lose the motivation to actually write the damned thing.

But I do know that the best description I ever came up with for my writing style is “conversational”.

That doesn’t mean there’s a lot of dialogue. Quite often, there isn’t.
What I mean (and this is purely a personal definition) is that my protagonists are speaking directly to the reader. They are saying – often quite literally – “Here, this is what happened. What I think happened. What I did, and what I thought I was doing.”

They – er, I – tell you a story.

And that’s about all I know.


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