Writing tips: What is style?



Creative Commons: dbdbrobot

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing style lately. Actually, I’ve thought a lot about it for a long time — as long as I’ve been writing, which is most of my life.

I find that my response to a book or to a writer, no matter what the subject is, depends a lot on style. I like an author who is original, who does not just try to copy a best-seller or the current trend in books you can pick up at the drug store.

But there is also something else that determines how well I like a story, something about the way the writer uses language.

I’ll give you an example: Margaret Atwood is generally accepted as one of today’s greatest writers. She has written a great many books in of a range of types — I am trying to avoid using the word “style” in different ways here — and, it could be argued, in different genres. Alias Grace could be called “historical fiction,” set in 19th century Upper Canada and based loosely on real events. The Handmaid’s Tale is a set in a dystopian future and, while it doesn’t have a lot of sci-fi tropes, it won the Arthur C. Clarke award for best science fiction.

Atwood is both accomplished and unarguably a master of the writing craft, but while she writes about many different subjects, there is something about her manner of writing that puts me off a little. The only word I can use to describe it is heavy. Her writing is heavy — I don’t read it quickly or easily; on the other hand, I can’t put it down once I start, either.

One writer whose style I really admire is Mark Helprin’s, particularly in his Winter’s Tale, a fantasy set in New York City. In addition to his ability to meld fantastic elements, humour and action into a setting simultaneously believable and fantastic, Helprin also manages to be very descriptive as well as economical with prose. It’s as good an example of magical realism as any I’ve ever read.

But what is it that determines the style? Word choice? Sentence length? Description? Active voice? Those are just a few items in the writer’s toolbox. Also critical are creating realistic, believable and interesting characters, pacing, mixing action and pathos and so much more.

The accepted good

There is a tension between popularity and what is accepted as “good writing” by the publishers and the leading literary critics of any time.

For instance, today, “good” writing is usually characterized by lean prose, active voice, realistic dialogue and sparse description. Writing coaches keep advising us to avoid adverbs in favour of more precise verbs, except when it comes to describing dialogue. We should only use “said,” and not try to change that around with “exclaimed,” or “replied.”

Crime novelist Elmore Leonard came out with ’s 10 rules of writing a couple of years ago; he admitted that he was at least a little facetious at the time, but now he says he seriously believes them. Okay. And Leonard is a great writer, and changed the literary world, and sells zillions of copies, okay, okay — but is he the arbiter of the English language, now? What if something happens in a sudden way? Elmore, what is wrong with the word “suddenly”?

The exemplars of great writing are still supposed to be Fitzgerald and Hemingway. I love their work, but again — should we all try to emulate their styles?

On the other side of that tension is writing that flies in the face of those rules, yet sells millions of copies. The current target of criticism is EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey. Here’s a passage:

I watch José open the bottle of champagne. He’s tall, and in his jeans and T-shirt, he’s all shoulders and muscles, tanned skin, dark hair, and burning dark eyes.

Descriptive, yes. Also clichéd — it’s been done so many times. “Burning dark eyes”? While we can all imagine what those must look like, couldn’t the author have thought of something original?

And yet, millions of readers ate that up, burning eyes and all. Did the burning eyes cause heartburn, I wonder?

Description

Writing coaches also tell us not to use too much description. Hemingway and Fitzgerald did not describe what their protagonists looked like. Okay, but Dashiel Hammet did.

I agree that too much description can get in the way of the story. There is a lot of material for people to read, that communication of any kind must compete for an audience’s attention with so much more material than there ever was before, so we writers should always try to get as much information across as efficiently as possible — fewer words, more information. I get that.

Efficiency is the goal! (Photo: The Pug Father/Creative Commons )

But we do need to describe some things, some times. And occasionally, an adverb is the best way to do that. See?

Who says so?

Watch this space. Last week, children’s- and middle-grade author Roger Eschbacher opined about writing style. In future, other bestselling authors will weigh in on the subject. So watch this space, and leave lots of comments and questions for the guests, please. Maybe we can finally determine exactly what writing style is, after all.

What is writing style? Guest post by Roger Eschbacher



What is writing style? It’s an elusive topic, in many ways.

To help me chase down the essence of writing style, I’ve called upon some author friends for their opinions. First, we have Roger Escbacher, author of a number of middle-grade books, such as the Leonard the Great series,  Dragonfriend and Giantkiller, middle-grade/young adult fantasy adventure stories set in the time of King Arthur, as well as Undrastormur: A Viking Fantasy Adventure.

140d6-roger-portrait-small_dsc00275editRoger Eschbacher is also the author of two children’s books: Road Trip, and Nonsense! He Yelled, both for Dial Books. He is also a professional television animation writer who’s worked for Warner Brothers, Nickelodeon, The Hub, and Cartoon Network. His blog is The Novel Project, and his Twitter handle is@RogerEschbacher.

How would you describe your own writing style?

I would describe my writing style as cinematic. My goal is to describe the action, world and characters in my book in such a way that readers have a movie playing in their head as they read along. I think this comes from two places, the first being that I’m a television animation writer. In animation, one has to fully describe what is happening so that the artists can animate it. Detailed descriptions are required in my “day job.” Second, as a reader I’ve always preferred books written in that style. I love getting lost in the “brain movie” when I’m reading for pleasure. In general, SF/fantasy books tend to be written this way, which is probably why I read this genre almost exclusively.

Are there any authors whose style you admire? Do you try to emulate them?

Dragonfriend

I admire the writing styles of Neil Gaiman, J.R.R.Tolkien, Douglas Adams, J.K. Rowling, and Rick Riordan, to name a few. All of these folks are quite “cinematic” so I suppose that’s the reason why. Of those four, I’d say Tolkien would be the strongest influence. I love his command of the epic tale so much that I find myself rereading LOTR and The Hobbit every couple of years. Oddly enough, I try not to emulate him too closely for fear of coming off as a low-grade copy of a true master.

Are there authors whose writing style you dislike?

Oh, yes.

How important is your writing style to you? Are you happy with your style, or are there aspects of it you try to change during rewriting or editing?

My writing style is very important to me and I am happy with it for the reasons listed above. When I’m editing, I do my best to make the manuscript an exciting and easy read. My goal is to produce a page-turner — something that flows. I want readers to fly through the book and not get knocked off course by speed bumps and, as Elmore Leonard says, “the parts that readers tend to skip.”

How can readers identify your writing style? Are there particular words or kinds of words that you tend to favour? Sentence structures? Or is it more in the story, the pacing or the characters?

UndrastormurFor me, it’s all about story, pacing, and characters. Natural-sounding dialogue is important, too. I hope that readers would describe my style as fast-paced and exciting.

Do you think your genre imposes certain restrictions on writing style?

Not really. I tend to write “quest-y” stories and for me that’s liberating in that everyone expects that the hero and his friends will go somewhere, do a lot of stuff along the way, almost get killed but survive and make it home. The challenge is to tell a quest tale in a way that follows the expected rules but also continues to surprise the reader.

Do you think your audience responds to your writing style, consciously or unconsciously?

 Yes, I do. My favorite reader compliment on Dragonfriend was from a kid who said, “I can totally see this as a movie.” I smile every time I think of that.

How important do you think writing style is to an author’s commercial success?

I honestly don’t know the answer to this one.Giantkiller

Thank you very much, Roger.

Readers, let Roger and me know what you think. How important is a writer’s style? What do you like? What do you wish authors would stop doing? And does an author’s writing style affect your decision to buy or recommend a book?

Undrastormur: An independent book review



The best children’s books are those that also appeal to adults, and they do that by presenting characters with elements that readers of all ages can recognize in themselves.

Undrastormur: A Viking Tale of Troublesome Trolls by Roger Eschbacher is one of those books. It continues the author’s oeuvre of middle-grade books based on ancient northern European mythology, started in Dragonfriend and Giant Killer.

The story

Undrastormur is the Storm of Wonder, unleashed by a special spell to the thunder god, Thor. The story begins when young Eirik wakes up before dawn one morning, feeling extra hungry, so he goes out into the forest to find mushrooms. Because he’s away from his Norse village, he avoids an attack by giant, horrible trolls who mysteriously are not deterred by sunlight. Terrified, he hides in a cave too small for trolls to get into. There, he finds part of his grandfather’s staff, a weapon that when whole can call down the Undrastormur, the storm that will destroy the trolls and save the village.

But there’s a problem, explained by the guardian spirit, Bruun: the staff is broken and will not work until its two halves are joined together again, and the other half is in Nilfheim, the Norse underworld, a cold, dark land of despair beneath the roots of Yggdrasil, the world tree.

Bruun explains that Eirik has inherited his grandfather’s magical properties, which is why he can communicate with a guardian spirit and survive the trip to Nilfheim. Taking his grandfather’s talisman so that he can return to his own world—after surviving an encounter with the trolls and escaping—Eirik goes to Nilfheim, where he meets a girl. It turns out that Astrid had also been sent to find Eirik’s grandfather’s staff, but had been stymied when the staff had been taken by a monster of Niflheim.

And here is the challenge: Eirik must learn to trust Astrid and work with her to defeat the monster, return to Earth, and then use the restored full staff to defeat the trolls.

Sure, it’s based on that trope of a young man, or teenager who inherits special properties that make him the only hope of his people—but hey, this is a fantasy, based on ancient mythology. It works.

Characters

One of Eschbacher’s main strengths as an author is his ability to show us interesting and believable characters. We can recognize in them people that we all know. Old Aesa, a tough old lady of the village, is my favourite. She reminds me of some of my relatives in her no-nonsense talking manner and her delight in shocking young people.

Eirik and Astrid are believable young people. Eirik is often terrified, but knowing that he’s the only hope for the village, embarks on his adventure anyway. Astrid is a strong, smart and able young woman who has learned how to survive. Even Bruun, the household spirit, is funny and interesting.

And the trolls are great: huge, ugly, disgusting, dim-witted and very funny.

Wonderful for adults & kids

Undrastormur is a lot of fun for the middle grade set: humour, grisly, messy deaths at the hands of hideous and amusingly stupid trolls, magic and resourceful young people finding the solution to problems that freeze grown-up hearts.

140d6-roger-portrait-small_dsc00275editAs an author, Eshcbacher, is a true professional. He’s written a number of children’s books and works in Hollywood as a writer for children’s programs. So of course, Undrastormur has obviously been professionally edited and produced, and has a professionally designed cover.

It’s a book that’s aimed at children, but with a solid story, fully developed characters, lots of humour and a surprising twist at the end, like the best of all art for children, it’s a book that adults can enjoy, too. I just wish it had been longer.

You can get it on Amazon.

5*

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For my first post of 2016, I’m going to ask all of you to subscribe to get the Written Words blog by mail. All you have to do is fill in the box to the right with your email address.

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What do authors like about writing? Three very different bestsellers spill



You would find it hard to find three excellent writers who are more different than Seb Kirby, Lisa Jay Davis and Charity Parkerson. Seb writes thrillers and science fiction; Lisa published a bestselling memoir of her time as an event producer in Hollywood; and Charity writes erotica, romance and fantasy.

But you’ll be surprised at the things they agree on.

Which element of a book is most important to you as a writer:

  • plot
  • characterization
  • setting
  • getting the little details right, such as the weapons your characters use, the science involved, or the historical aspects of the time period your book is set in
  • action
  • sex, or
  • other?

Charity Parkerson: Since I write erotica and spicy romance, I have to say the sex.

SebKirbyLargerSeb Kirby: The first two interest me most. Story arc and character arc and how these interact is something that I’m working hard at developing in my writing. Think Walter White in Breaking Bad as a supreme example of how this is done well. In addition to that I think that giving a story a real sense of place is very important. Much of the rest flows from this.

Lisa Jey Davis: Considering I have only written non-fiction thus, far, I’ll have to answer from that perspective… I’d have to say characterization and humor.

What part of writing do you spend the most time on: research, writing, editing, making coffee or cleaning your work space?

Charity Parkerson: Writing. I’m focused.

Seb Kirby: What’s missing here is promotion. I spend about as much time on that as I do on writing. Research comes lower down the list, but when that involves traveling to new places, my interest spikes.

Lisa Jey Davis: Editing number 1, writing number 2.

Which of these do you enjoy most?

Charity Parkerson: Making coffee, lol.CharityParketon2015

Seb Kirby: Of course, it’s the writing. In the end it’s what makes the whole thing tick.

Lisa Jey Davis: Writing.

What do you wish you had to do less?

Charity Parkerson: Cleaning.

Seb Kirby: Books that don’t get promoted don’t get read. So, there is little point in writing them. Which means that every author needs to be a promoter. That can be fun and you can meet some wonderful people. But the real currency is in the writing. So, less promotion and more time for writing would be top of my list.

Lisa Jey Davis: Editing.

What part of writing or publishing do you think you could help other writers with?

Charity Parkerson: I’m pretty good at marketing.

Seb Kirby: I’ve been self-published now since December 2010. In this digital world we now live in, that’s equivalent to saying sometime in the Cretaceous Period. Which is a way of saying that I think I could help best with advice on self-publishing. How we all write, well, I think much of that is down to personal choice.

Lisa Jey Davis: Marketing! Lol.LisaJey2

Which of your books or other works are you personally happiest with? Why?

Charity Parkerson: Every time I start a new book, I’m happier with it than any other. It’s like a new love affair.

Seb Kirby: Like most authors, it has to be the most recent one! I guess the hope is that you learn a little more with each book you write. The reality, perhaps, is that you never know whether that might be the last. So, the answer here is Each Day I Wake. It’s my first psychological thriller. I found the challenge of getting deeper into the mind of my main character was really stimulating.

Lisa Jey Davis: My memoir, Ms. Cheevious in Hollywood: My Zany Years Spent Working in Tinsel Town. It’s a book that people read, as opposed to my other book, Ahhhhhh … Haaaaaa Moments With Ms. Cheevious: A Yoga Routine for All Levels, which is primarily a guide to  following along to photos.

Thank you all!

About these bestselling authors

Charity Parkerson is an award-winning and multi-published author with Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Indie Publishing House LLC, and Punk & Sissy Publications. Born with no filter from her brain to her mouth, she decided to take this odd quirk and insert it in her characters.

  • 2015 Readers’ Favorite Award Winner
  • Winner of 2, 2014 Readers’ Favorite Awards
  • 2015 RWA Passionate Plume Award Finalist
  • 2013 Readers’ Favorite Award Winner
  • 2013 Reviewers’ Choice Award Winner
  • 2012 ARRA Finalist for Favorite Paranormal Romance
  • Five-time winner of The Mistress of the Darkpath

You can find Charity Parkerson online

Seb Kirby is the author of the James Blake Thriller series (Take No More, Regret No More and Forgive No More), the Raymond Bridges sci fi thriller series (Double Bind) and now the psychological thriller Each Day I Wake. An avid reader from an early age—his grandfather ran a mobile lending library in Birmingham – he was hooked from the first moment he discovered the treasure trove of books left to his parents. He was a university academic for many years, latterly at University of Liverpool. Now, as a full-time writer, his goal is to add to the magic of the wonderful words and stories he discovered back then. He lives in the Wirral, UK

Seb Kirby’s books:

Find Seb Kirby online:

 

Ms. Cheevious in Hollywood

Humourous memoir by Lisa Jey Davis

Lisa Jey Davis is an award-winning writer, an author, and a former television production talent manager who worked with musicians, fashionistas, celebrities and other characters for shows produced by MTV, CBS, the NFL and many more. She is the editor in [Mis]Chief at MsCheevious.com where she “brings the funny” about life and love. Also a fitness and health nut, Lisa Jey has made appearances on The Doctors TV show and the CW in Los Angeles (among others), talking women’s health issues. She is a health and fitness contributor for LiveStrong.com and blogs for the Huffington Post. Lisa Jey is also a certified Pilates instructor, Lagree Method trainer and yoga instructor. When she is not speaking at seminars and events, she offers personal fitness and weight management sessions and teaches fitness classes around the Los Angeles area. Lisa Jey resides in Santa Monica and enjoys every single moment.

Lisa Jey’s books:

Ms. Cheevious in Hollywood: My Zany Years Spent Working in Tinsel Town

Ahhhhhh … Haaaaaa Moments With Ms. Cheevious: A Yoga Routine for All Levels

Follow Lisa Jey and her alter ego Ms. Cheevious:

Websites

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

 

 

What is style? An interview with Charity Parkerson



CharityParketon2015How important is writing style? And just what is it, anyway — what makes up an author’s style? Can an author truly be unique?

This week, Written Words has invited Charity Parkerson, author of paranormal romance and erotica, to tell us her thoughts on writer’s style. Read what she has to say, and then check out her work.

How would you describe your own writing style?

Erotic with a southern twist.

Are there any authors whose style you admire? Do you try to emulate them?

I really like Julie Garwood. She does a great job of mixing humor with suspense and since I’m hilarious (in my own mind) I try to add a bit of humor to my books, as well.

Are there authors whose writing style you dislike?

I love Jennifer Wilde and have read all of her books. However, I can’t stand her descriptive writing style. She can weave the most wonderful and engaging stories, but I find myself skipping over the three-page descriptions of someone’s dress.Parkerson-Assignment

How important is your writing style to you? Are you happy with your style, or are there aspects of it you try to change during rewriting or editing?

When I first started out, I had several people tell me that I would run into trouble with reviewers because my characters have southern accents. I refused to remove it, since my books are set in the South, and it made sense that their speech would reflect that. I have run into a couple of reviews that mention it, but for the most part readers have been fine with it, and I’m glad that I did not allow anyone to talk me out of writing my own voice out of my stories.

What are the important elements of your style? What are you trying to achieve?

In erotica, I think that one of the most important elements is the ability to create a scene that is relatable but is still hot. I want to paint a picture with words that the reader can see, hear, and taste as if they are there.

How can readers identify your writing style? Are there particular words or kinds of words that you tend to favour? Sentence structures? Or is it more in the story, the pacing or the characters?

My characters tend to be a little on the dark side. It’s rare that I write a perfect character. I want people to cheer for someone that they never thought they could.

Do you think your genre imposes certain restrictions on writing style?

I write in several genres, but I do think that erotica is the most restrictive. Most people would think that it is the least. However, several times I have sent a story to my editor believing that I’ve finished the world’s hottest erotic novel, only to learn it is classified as steamy romance. You’re expected to use words that shock people into letting down their natural prude filter.

Do you think your audience responds to your writing style, consciously or unconsciously?

I hope it’s an unconscious reaction to a great read. 😀

How important do you think writing style is to an author’s commercial success?

It’s very important if you also factor in who you are pitching yourself to.

Thank you, Charity.

Charity Parkerson is an amazingly prolific author published by Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Midnight Books, and Punk & Sissy Publications. She has won a number of awards, including the Reader’s Favorite Award in 2014 and 2015.

With over 50 titles published since 2011, she writes several series in fantasy, erotica, thriller and romance, and many of her books cross genre boundaries. She made the bestseller list with her book A Secure Heart. Her newest work, Crush, the fifth in her Hard Hit, is now available for pre-order from Amazon.

Visit her site at www.charityparkerson.com, where you can find her blogs, Punk & Sissy and the Sinner Blog.
 
You can like her at Facebook.com/authorCharityParkerson. You can follow her on Twitter @CharityParkerso.

Telling tales about tales



Kathy Lynn Hall on writing style

Reprised from the previous Written Words blog on Google.

Kathy Lynn Hall was one of the first independent authors I encountered through social media. Even though I am not in the target audience, I enjoyed her first novel, Red Mojo Mama, the story of a woman who takes control of her own life and her own happiness. I asked her about her writing style.

How would you describe your own writing style?

Folksy — it took me a long time to find my “voice” and once I did I realized that it’s very earthy and one-on-one. I think I would have been one of those people sitting around the pickle barrel, telling tall tales in the old days.

Are there any authors whose style you admire? Do you try to emulate them?

I absolutely love Agatha Christie and Jodi Picoult, but can’t begin to write like either one of them. The only thing I think I can imitate is the way a story is woven. I often think of this as a pinball machine — anyone remember those? — when the ball starts down the chute and you’re madly trying to use the flippers to keep it pinging off all the little thingies. You keep trying to go back to the high pointers, sometimes failing, but sometimes you hit it big and everything lights up. That’s what a writer lives for.

Are there authors whose writing style you dislike?

No particular authors, but if a story is bereft of heart, I’m really not interested and quickly lose interest. If it’s all action and no character-building or interactions, I just stop reading it.

How important is your writing style to you? Are you happy with your style, or are there aspects of it you try to change during rewriting or editing?

I have grown to really like my style. I’ll never be the Great American Novelist and that’s okay with me. If I can make a reader love my characters and care about them, then I’m happy. The one thing I have to watch out for is my tendency to be too concise and leave out description. I started out as a screenwriter and that’s ALL dialog, so I have to curb those tendencies.

How can readers identify your writing style? Are there particular words or kinds of words that you tend to favour? Sentence structures? Or is it more in the story, the pacing or the characters?

It’s definitely the characters and what they say and do to each other. I could have written Castaway — the film — because my character would have invented Wilson, too.

Do you think your genre imposes certain restrictions on writing style?

Absolutely — I think any genre does that. My “Red” novels are romantic suspense, which demands that there be enough romance, but not so much that it becomes a romance novel, and enough action to keep you hopping. The current novel I’m working on is a political thriller and I’m stepping outside my comfort zone a bit to insert enough action.

Do you think your audience responds to your writing style, consciously or unconsciously?

With any author, I think the reader responds unconsciously at first, but eventually how you are writing rises to the surface and they begin to recognize what they like about the way you write. Or maybe what they don’t like.

How important do you think writing style is to an author’s commercial success? It’s everything. Almost, anyway. Style can overcome a lot. Sure, you must have a great story and characters, but if your style is clumsy or tough to read, you’ve lost the reader before they even get that far.

Thanks for the opportunity to do this interview, Scott. I enjoyed it.

And thank you, Kathy, for your insight.

Kathy Lynn Hall is author of the novels Red Mojo Mama, Red is an Attitude and The Great Twitter Adventure, the short-story collection Her Heart, the autobiographical collection of musings entitled Tell Them You’re Fabulous and the social media guidebook Blog & Tweet — How to Make a Splash Online.

She’s also a prolific blogger, maintaining two blogs simultaneously. Currently, Kathy is on an extended round-the-world trip. You can follow her wanderings on

Also, be sure to visit her Amazon Author page.

What do you think about Kathy’s comments about writing style? Leave a comment.