A Smooth Style can only compliment Personal Style

Before I was taken over (literally) by the need to write this novel, I had done a lot of a different type of writing. I completed seven years of graduate school with an above average number of term papers, reports, and APA style journal articles to show for the effort. I am proud of my accomplishments in this arena but I must say – at the end of the day, it’s hard to feel an emotional connection to a lot of that writing. I was ready for a change.

That is my way of explaining why I approached the act of fiction writing with the attitude that no reference material was required. I wanted only my own thoughts to be recorded on the computer screen. Except for the Anne Lamott book, bird by bird, that I recommended in an earlier blog – the idea that I could benefit from books related to writing style never flew anywhere near my radar. I didn’t want other people’s ideas.

Well – the things we need come to us when we need them or when we’re finally ready to see they’ve been there all along. Once I had developed a smidgen of confidence in my ability to create, I was ready to access a few second opinions. I purchased three books I highly recommend: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King; The Creative Writer’s Style Guide by Christopher T. Leland; and a classic – The Elements of Style by William Strunk & E.B. White.

Each of these books has devastated and enlightened me in equal measure. I realized almost immediately that I had committed every hackneyed, amateur, lacking in confidence, or ability, fiction-writing error, mentioned in all three books – thus my devastation. On the up side – having stuck my foot in my mouth to such a degree, and still having a 400 page manuscript, which more than a few people managed to wade through and enjoy, must mean something. I was open to being enlightened.

These are the major issues I have attempted to address in my most recent draft of Disappearing in Plain Sight.

  1. Resisting the urge to repeat myself – this is a huge one for me. It’s difficult to just let go and trust that readers will understand exactly what I want them to understand. But there is the rub, for sure – interpretation is in the hands of the reader.
  2. Letting dialogue speak for itself – there’s no need to say – she said sarcastically – if the dialogue doesn’t convey that then go back and change the dialogue (thanks for telling me this ages ago, Sarah!)
  3. Not telling too much too soon – give only as much information out as needed to keep the story moving (another thing someone told me from the very start – thanks Doug – now I’m ready to hear)
  4. Make very strategic and careful decisions related to moving the reader out of the present action to provide back-story details – another difficult thing for me. I just want the reader to understand these characters the way I do!
  5. Cleaning up point of view issues – it’s not a good idea to switch between the different characters’ inner point of view too quickly. The book I’m writing does involve a lot of inner dialogue and this has made this point a real challenge for me. I’ve had to make tough choices. Some pieces had to move around and some had to go in order to keep the point of view clear
  6. Being ruthless about the amount of detail I believe is needed to get my point across – I am really getting the idea now that broad brush strokes are better than endless fine detailing.

I don’t regret waiting until this later date in my fiction-writing life to work on the above issues. After innumerable drafts of this novel I have a clear sense of my own style. That’s not something I would have wanted to miss. Now I can benefit from the tips I have picked up from reading fiction style books. Although we all want a smooth fiction-writer’s style, no one should give up their own style. One must compliment the other.

A statue garden in a gallery outside of Tucson, Arizona

Attention to a smoother writing style has resulted in a detailed rewrite that is still ongoing. That, combined with the line-by-line style and grammar editing, means the actual publishing of the novel will not occur until early spring of 2013, but things are in the works to ensure it definitely will happen then.

I will share more about that in my next blog. For now, I am back to the rewrites.