Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Question of Style

One of the aspects of writing that most new writers have trouble grasping is that of style. What is style, and what's mine? Is my style a good one? Should I change it?

As it turns out, style is something inherent to your work, and it can't really be changed without giving it an artificial feel. A writer's style is a part of the writer. It has to do with how the writer's mind works, and how they put thoughts into words.

A few years ago, in describing my writing voice to David Gerrold, I said that I don't try to imitate anyone. His answer? You can't. No matter what you write, it will come out sounding like you.

Having been around the block a couple times, I can start to understand my style. And notice that an author is generally quite blind to his or her own voice, style, and even the quality of their own work. That said, you can pick up on what other people tell you, generally through the critique process.

I'm not a literary writer. My intention is to make the writing disappear into the background. I want the readers to forget they are reading and get drawn into the story. I don't have beautiful prose. I can pull off beautiful prose for brief passages, but it just isn't my voice and it's not something I can sustain for very long.

Just this evening, I was speaking to my friend Jack Mangan. We were discussing a blurb he is preparing for my forthcoming stand-alone volume, "Winter." He commented that he was having trouble finding just the write words, but the substance of the blurb will be something to the effect of Rick Novy writes with the spirit of the masters of the 1950s, yet keeps it fresh for the 2050s.

If you think about it, that's a pretty cool compliment. Saying that I tip my hat to the masters but take it in new directions is about all I could ask for. My material is not a rehash of anything popular right this minute. Sometimes it's an advantage to not have time to keep up with reading. It's hard to rehash what you haven't read.

He also said that I do a good job portraying aliens and alien cultures. That's always a challenge, because an alien culture deserves to be as rich and colorful as any human culture, yet you have to make it all up. Not being thorough by understanding your aliens before you write leads you down the path of all societies being human

That's a large part of the problem of why Rigel Kentaurus is taking so very long to finish. I was ready to start work on the novel in October 2007, but I couldn't. I didn't know the major alien race until I read some real history. I'm still learning about them, but now that I've spent the better part of 20,000 words with several, I'm starting to understand their culture.

But in the end, it's up to me to make them convincing. If I make them interesting, and give them a rich enough culture, then you'll suspend your disbelief and come along for the ride. I can't pull you along with artistic language, it isn't my style. I have to do it with substance, and that means transparent writing where the story is king.


Kosmo said...

Hey Rick, this is off-topic, but as of this evening codex seems not to exist from where I'm sitting. Can you reach it, or is it just me?

Rick Novy said...

It appears to be down.