September 5, 2012 by jcfarnham
Anyone engaged in writing fiction and/or advice to that end, in this modern world of ours, must have come across the idea that prose must be invisible. Or perhaps that story is king and any shred of unique sentence construction (re: style) is stuff that will pull today’s readers out of a book faster than a teenager clearing his browser history.
Well, I’m here to tell you all to write how ever you want to. You owe it to yourselves.
I’ve discussed style at length in the past but this time I want to speak specifically about the trend above and the true nature of how people react to what I call “style heavy” writing.
I consider style heavy writing to be any work of fiction (or non-fiction) that has a strong authorial voice; the kind of stuff you just know “author x” wrote. And guess what. People used to love it.
It should come as no surprise that I am a fan of Douglas Adams, writer of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, Long Dark Teatime of The Soul, and many other works of comedy brilliance. I don’t think it would be too far of a logical leap to say that an editor would chew Douglas out today for writing the way he did.
Everything we are taught, he seems to do wrong. In fact, until the final books in the Hitch hiker’s series his protagonist, Arthur Dent, had very little development. Did it fail as a story then? Well, clearly not (although plenty of people will say they do fail, but thats a matter of opinion). It was a vehicle for the humour. Adams was and still is a well loved cult personality and one cannot forget his contribution to television back in the day in the form of his work on Doctor Who.
This is a matter of style. Douglas knew he was doing things differently (he never even considered himself a novelist, just a writer of radio and tv, but he tried it on anyway). But he knew what he had to do to pull off his unique brand of humour.
Run it through the filter of current editorial advice and I just know it would fall flat. It would lose that flare. (Okay perhaps it could have done with some character work, but never the less…)
There are many other examples out there in genre fiction history of authors who had exceedingly strong stylistic voices–authors who are still exceedingly famous today. I shalln’t mention any because, not only do I not want to bore you, I don’t have the time to run through all of them. There are many.
Invisible prose is a legitimate style, as is its opposite. Neither are wrong. I repeat, neither are wrong.
I personally think that writing loses something when you go back and edit into an “invisible” style. I think readers today could handle a lot more authorial voice than they are being given. I do not think people are too stupid for that kind of treatment.
However, stylistic writing is out of vogue. No matter.
Like I said at the beginning of this post. Write how you want to, not for some percieved audience. Don’t however ignore the feedback of others. Editors and publishers may well know what sells, if your goal is to get your story out there you could do a lot worse than listen to them.
An awful lot of the prose I’ve read recently could belong to almost any author picked at random from the Amazon book library (the differentiation comes from the execution of ideas and God forbid a bit of rare uniqueness. See China Mieville).
I would love to see a return to stylistic writing. I’m not talking about putting readers off, dragging them screaming out of the story for a little show and tell time. I’m talking about the kind of writing you used to see in the classics of fiction, your Adams’, your Lovecrafts’, your… [insert many other examples here]. 😉
If the prose doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but that shouldn’t mean you need remove any and all examples of what makes you as a writer unique.