So, what is my writing style?
That question akin to asking, ‘Who am I?’ (Answer: How the bleep do I know?) I’m different in different circumstances. I change, I adapt, I filter, I use different language, I act differently, depending on what I’m doing and who I’m with – child, adult, work colleague, client, neighbour, shop-assistant-who-can’t-be-bothered-to-stop-gossiping-on-the-phone-and-serve-you, or by myself.
What I do and how I do it might change from year to year.
Yes, people can have a distinctive writing style. If they write in the same style, on the same subject matters, they can be easy to spot. Such as Stephen King’s horror novels. But styles are not always easy to pick. There have been hoaxes, where people send in the writing of famous authors to agents/publishers – only to have those stories rejected.
You can’t always pick ‘em.
And if someone writes for both the middle grade market and the young adult market, they are obviously going to choose a different style for each. You cannot use the same sentence structures, word choices, themes etc for different age groups.
I have read a much-published author say that her ‘voice’ changes to suit the book. That makes a lot of sense. If you were writing a series of mystery books, your books might well carry the same style, voice and tone. But if you write in different genres, or in the POV (point of view) of different characters, the ‘voice’ of the book may change to suit.
For example, in the book, ROOM, by Emma Donaghue, a five year old boy tells the story and it is his voice that comes across clearly in the story. The language is very simple. The boy even calls the furniture in the room by name.
Ma leans out of Bed to switch on Lamp, he makes everything light up whoosh.
Similarly, The knife of never letting go, by Patrick Ness , also written in the POV of a young boy (though older than the boy in ROOM) is written in a style that could only work for a book like this.
The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got much to say. About anything.
As a teenager, I almost always wrote in third-person. And weird stories, seriously weird. I saw a few of them again recently – and yanno, they weren’t all that bad. Not anywhere near as good as the stories of the teens at inkpop though. If you read some of their stuff without looking first at their ages – you’ll be amazed. (You might even feel like stabbing yourself in the eye when you see how well thirteen-year-olds write these days.)
Check Winter Child out, by a thirteen year old inkpopper.
When I feel like typing out some of my old stuff, I might post it here. (Yeah, my stuff’s from back in the days when if you wrote something, you wrote it on paper, else battled the typewriter with the dinky ‘A’ key and zero editing capability.) But not today. Can’t be arsed to tell you the truth.
Anyway, I rarely wrote from the teen years to well, recent years.
I did write a short story around ten years back – which I sent to a magazine here in Australia. To my great shock, they took it and paid me for it. But at that time, fiction writing wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to become a social worker at that stage. And so I studied for a diploma in social work. (I still am passionate about the social issue here and around the world. But I figured out that the hours I’d be working just weren’t compatible with being a single mother with two young children. The kids being my priority, I couldn’t continue that path.)
I started writing for a parenting website, learning SEO and copywriting. And I loved it.
But an article I read while researching a story for Essential Baby put an idea in my mind that refused to go away. I first wanted to write an insightful report – but later decided to explore the idea in a fiction format. But it was such a far-reaching set of issues, that it was hard to pin down. It was important that the story come first, above the idea.
How should I write it?
Here are some writing samples:
Heat opened on the swamps like a cracked egg – once it broke there was no going back. The stink of mud and mosquito spray thickened in my nostrils. A spindly child nestled into the soft ground on her stomach, no older than six or seven. The metal bolts and fork of her slingshot glinted red in the first light of the sun. She drew back the rubber of the slingshot and fired a rock. A thin screech of a swamp rat scratched the air. The girl hastened towards her catch, dress clinging around her knees.
The knife’s blade was sharp in my hand as I tugged it from my pocket. My friends waited motionless in the river. Only their eyes were alive, expectant. In the moonlight they looked like dead trees, their hair tangled around their bodies in ropey vines. I drew the knife across my palm, pressing hard to make the cut. It stung like crazy – I guess you need to cut deeper for you not to feel it. I held my fist in the air. A thin trail of blood zigzagged down my arm. Ezzy looked over with fierce eyes, giving a quick nod. Somehow I knew she’d be the first to take the knife after me. Her frizzy dark hair skimmed the surface of the water as she ran the blade over her hand.
The deep orange sky was closing around the barge as it cruised across to Fraser Island. We sat on the jetty, willing captives of the surreal, syrupy light. We ruminated and raked over our favourite topic; camping at Fraser for a couple of weeks during the summer holidays. Nine fifteen and sixteen year olds; feral; free. A dark breeze whipped out from under the jetty, buffeting our hair, whiffs of the brackish ocean mingling with the moist, spicy scents coming off our hot chips and sauce. I pulled my jumper over my hands. The last of the whale watching boats were leisurely pulling towards the jetty. Jumping to my feet, I waved everyone a quick goodbye. I heard a chorus of “Bye Ro” as I walked away. Night was settling into the streets ahead. My foot kicked a solid object on the footpath. I glanced down to see a stiffened magpie, staring glassy-eyed upwards at the sky.
Every time he sees the girl, that greasy, abundant summer squeezes through the pores of his skin. That summer. The end of ’37, sprawled in back seat of a Greenways bus, banging out some Jack Johnson and Xavier Rudd from two decades ago; songs that tasted like freedom; warm beer dribbling down his chin every time a wheel hit a pothole, his head swelled as big as a prize watermelon, desperately trying to look like his senses weren’t jamming every time she glanced his way. She, in singlet and mini-skirt, ignores the dark blood filling his brain, carelessly swinging her long untanned legs over the seat opposite, Botticelli hair catching a halo of light as she leans her head back against the window.
What is sad is that the above are all beginnings of the same book.
Still, it’s the idea underpinning that is the most important to me. The last sample is the first time I sat down to wrestle the idea into a story. The idea remains important to me, and seriously, I don’t mind how long it takes.
I also realised that I didn’t have to find a writing style. I just needed to find the style that suited the story. If it meant changing from third-person to -first-person, so be it. It was uncomfortable at first, writing in first. I find third much easier.
At the same time, since putting the first chapters of the book online in 2009 (as a short story) a year later there’s been books coming out (about to come out – in early 2011) with similar themes. So while I say it’s good to take your time with a book – if you have a good idea, go for it (and don’t put it online! At least, don’t put any important ideas of your book online) Am happy the say ‘the main idea’ has not yet been explored in any YA book or other book I’ve yet seen or heard of.
I thought I’d finished, but realised over Easter I’d taken the world of my book a little too far. So I’m taking it back a few shades, not quite as far back as the world of the book was when I first started, but just a little further back. I want the world to be realistic and convincing.
My writing style?
Meh, it changes.