Tag: novel writing

Writing Style

I haven’t taken a photograph in almost a month.  I’m running out of images to use and they are getting less and less related to the actual posts they accompany.

I have spent a week considering what my writing style is.  My sister asked me if it’s important that it have a label.  I absolutely think that when you get to the point, as a writer, that you are determined to get your work in print, you must know what your style is in order to sell it.  No one will be impressed if you say “My style is undefinable”.  It is the great vanity of creative people to believe their work defies all description or labeling.

I am told that having an enormous creative crisis at this point in my project is perfectly normal.  I finished writing the second draft and promptly realized I am a total hack writer with no definable style and no consistency or true gift.  Nothing but a loser and a waste of time.  It’s been pretty spectacular.  I’ve actually been crying about it when no one’s looking.

I realize that I’m letting you know just how pathetic I’ve been behaving over this.  I’ve just been writing in such a vacuum and I am the only one to read my book and judge if the efforts have been worthwhile and I am not able to judge this.  It’s like asking me to say if I made a good enough child, to judge if I might have been better off sticking with cats.

Here’s what really worries me: if I’m to judge by Cricket and Grey what my writing style is I have to say it has multiple personality disorder.  I needed to write in both first and third person.  I struggled with that for a long time when I first started writing it.  It was agonizing until I simply accepted that I needed to write in both perspectives and got on with it.

It’s about seeing in and seeing out.

Do I need both because I’m not skilled enough to pick one and make it work?  Good question.

The other thing is that the style is both light and playful like a Georgette Heyer novel and then shifts to a grainy disturbing darkness full of nightmare and evil and gritty naked truth.

It’s like trying to blend Pride and Prejudice with The Road.

Doesn’t it seem like these are two completely incompatible styles?  So how can my style be a mix of the two?

Yet it is.  Alternating constantly between the two, rather than blending.

Everyone kept saying to step away from the second draft for a while.  My friend Angela suggested I work on some other writing project while letting the second draft breath.  So finally I opened up and dusted off the Jane Doe book I’d shoved under the bed.

There it was again.  First person and third person.  Only I never agonized over it with Jane Doe because I went on instinct alone.  No planning, no outlines, and no plot work (which explains how I got to 108, 000 words and couldn’t possibly end it and had to stash it somewhere to sleep for a while), I went with my instinct.  I just wrote like a maniac.  I wrote those hundred thousand words in less than three months.  It took me over a year to do the same with Cricket and Grey.

I spent much of yesterday rereading Jane Doe.  I was surprised by how much I like it.  How worthy the bones of it are.  The plot is a disaster and huge aspects of it need reworking but there is work there I can be proud of.

My style is as steady in it’s duality as my own personality is.  It also permeates my life, my blog writing, and my head.  To recognize it offered at least the relief of finally seeing that I do have a style.

What haunts me now is how on earth my style will ever get published?  When you pick up a book you expect to be carried along in a smooth and seamless narrative that sustains a specific mood.  There is no part of The Road that is irreverent or playful or light hearted.  Likewise there is no part of Pride and Prejudice that falters from the light social satirical mood, there are no cannibals or serial killers lurking in the bushes at Longbourn and even if there were they’d be fodder for satire as well.

My style is an unblended mix of dark and light.  Harsh and gentle.

My style is likely to give you mood whiplash.

There is the breezy irreverent mood that skims through you like a pretty little boat and then just as you’re relaxed into this kind and quirky place I take you down to hell where your eyes are gouged out by my personal demons, where I rip you to pieces with knives and there is a lot of blood.

Who the hell wants to take that trip for 300 pages?

Aside from me, I mean.  It’s the only trip I know and I’m comfortable with extreme contrasts.  It’s the only trip I’m capable of taking anyone on.  I do it all the time in my blog.  There is the visceral rich writing that is thick with images and stark with violence and then there’s all the joking about penises and Republicans.  My blog is all high contrasts.  There are two moods, two personalities in constant alternation.

Inside versus outside.

Exactly like what I show the world versus the hell in my head.

Exactly how I make light of absolutely everything and just as everyone is enjoying the breezy conversation I dump your heart full of anger, abuse, pessimism, death, and hopelessness.

I do it fast.  I never know exactly when the mood will switch but I doubt there’s a friend alive who hasn’t kind of wished I wouldn’t do that.

My writing style is:

1.  Dual points of view in the same story/piece.

2.  Alternates constantly between rich and dark with breezy and sweet.

3.  Violence is a constant theme.

I still don’t know how to succinctly label the style as I don’t think there’s a whole lot of precedence for it.  There may be a really good reason for that.  Which is what terrifies me.

Having writing crisis’ serve a purpose.  I see what my style is very clearly now.  I just have to convince myself that I can write well enough to make it work, to make people want to go on my trip.

In truth I am completely overwhelmed by how much work it takes to make a novel good enough to print.  I keep telling myself it doesn’t have to be a work of fucking art because I want to be a career novelist, not necessarily a nobel prize winner.  I just want to write.  It doesn’t have to be the most amazing thing ever.  I don’t have to put every single thing I’ve got into one story.

But I do.  It is unacceptable to me to write anything mediocre.  It is unacceptable to me to write anything less than the best I have in me.

How many years will it take me to make Cricket and Grey good enough?

How long will my family, friends, and other responsibilities wait for me to be completely present again?  Writing a worthy novel takes so much more out of you than you ever think it can.  It’s exhilarating and draining simultaneously.

If I was already published, if I already had a novel out there that was reasonably successful I know my family would not grow too impatient, but how long can they sustain patience for this endless project with no results, no reward, no success.

My writer friend Angela asked me if I’d still be writing novels even if I never got published.  I said yes.  I can’t stop this trip now.  I bought the ticket when I was ten and I’m not getting off now that I finally caught the damn train.  But if I never got published I would feel sad if I looked back and found I’d made a sacrifice of my family just to write for myself.  My garden is full of blackberry and choked with quack-grass for this writing.  You can’t write gently here and there, snatching a spare moment when one presents itself if you want to make a story come to life.  It requires you to bury yourself in it, spend shocking amounts of time ignoring absolutely everything else around you.

So if I’m not good enough to get published then it would be really nice to know that now and spare the rest of my life such criminal neglect.

My gut tells me I’m good enough.  My gut tells me that even if I’m an uncomfortable writer to read, even if my style of writing gives readers mood whiplash, it’s at least honest.  It’s the interior and the exterior in one place.  It is the reality: we require efforts at buoyancy and light in order to swallow the swords of hell without dying.  My gut tells me that my style might not be comfortable but it reflects a truth that people will understand because it reflects the order of the universe:

Dark and Light.  Yin and Yang.  Good and Evil.  Virgin and Whore.  God and Satan.  Life and Death.  Summer and Winter.  Men and Women.  Black and White.  Private and Public.  Innocence and Guilt.  Ugly and Beautiful.  Night and Day.  Truth and Lies.

I will find a way to describe this style in one small sentence or phrase.

For my own process I am going to publish a few excerpts from both Jane Doe and from Cricket and Grey that illustrate this style.  If anyone wants to weigh in and describe how they perceive my writing style I welcome it, however, this is an exercise for myself mostly so that I may concentrate on distilling my understanding of my own style so that I can go to a book agent and say “When you read my book THIS is what you’re getting.”

I have to thank all my family and friends who have patiently been coaching me out of this awful crisis.  I have been sinking pretty far this week.  Part of this is no doubt compounded by the cough and the sore throat and the stupid calf muscle.  Being sick is not easy on a crisis already in progress.

I am climbing out of my hole.

There’s much work to be done.

Dissecting Story and Character

My friend Skye sent me a very useful link to a blog called Query Shark and I’ve been studying it in order to learn how to write an excellent pitch.  That’s my goal right now, to write an excellent pitch.  There is no part of  life for which such a skill is wasted.  Last Friday I spent all day long reading good queries and bad queries and trying to write my own in my head.  This exercise was illuminating.  It shed light on some serious weaknesses in my approach to my story such as the fact that I kept telling people it was about taking a dangerous trip to Portland in the future when there is no gasoline available to the public anymore and the roads are rough and good people have turned to crime.  Yes, it is, and it isn’t.

In a pitch you have to know your plot as though it was the story of your own life.  And then be god.  If you can’t say what the plot really is then you won’t ever get your story off the ground.  The thing about writing is that you can plan, plot, write organized outlines, but as you write your story will evolve.  This is what I’m learning.  So you have to keep up with your story as a writer, not just keep up but actually get ahead of it.

I know what my story is about and somewhere in the muck of my overstuffed brain is a very clear knowledge of what the core of the whole story is.  I know it all but I am tongue tied.  I can’t explain how it gets so convoluted between my head and my voice.  It’s like I know how to say it in a different language and something keeps getting lost in the translation.

It’s a story about an herbalist who’s father dies and the death taxes are too big and she has to figure out how to make enough money to save her property which is her livelihood.  But she starts finding out that her father was living a double life and she’s the only one who doesn’t know it and so she gets in lots of danger….

Oh my god.  I make myself sound like such an idiot.  YAWN.

Oh right, but the main thing is that her mother was murdered years before and her father’s death uncovers information about her mother’s murder that her father had been keeping from her.

I had to really look at the whole story and ask myself what the most important thing about it is.  Her mother’s death.  So what kind of story is it?

It’s not a mystery.  It sounds like a mystery but there’s no “who dunnit” puzzle to solve as you read.  There’s no detective with magnifying glass to the ground and “fingerprint” powder on his nose.  You get to find out who the murderer is but it doesn’t unfold like a mystery.

A mystery= character spends whole book trying to solve a puzzle.

A suspense= character spends whole book trying to stay alive and in the course of not dying figures stuff out.

The point of a mystery is who committed the crime.

The point of suspense is how a character survives a terrifying experience.

This is a suspense novel.  It doesn’t have lots of carefully laid clues, there’s no path of crumbs to the bad guy.  It’s all about stumbling into danger you didn’t know was there and running until you flush the enemy out and stand them down.

Inspector Lynly=mystery

Charade= suspense  (with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn)

There are certainly some stories that blur that line.

My head is flooded with plot and character.  I am living it and breathing it.  Since getting my head straight about the real core of the story it has become easier to re-map the plot with the little changes that keep evolving the story as I rewrite each chapter.  Characters are becoming sharper and snug little friendships are finding their tension, just as they do in real life.

I read a post by another writer in which she was talking about getting comments from editors about changes they would want to see in her book before they’d think about taking it on.  She writes how she wouldn’t listen to them because every word she wrote, every sentence is perfection and there was no way she could cut the back story to her character because it was so beautiful.


Later she admits that she wrote the backstory to make her book longer so it would be novel sized rather than be a novella.  She ends up admitting that maybe the editors had some points.

I admit that I was absolutely bowled over at the kind of arrogance it would take to suppose that several editors are wrong and she is right.  I think an author has to have an instinct for what they’re doing and there are sure to be sticking points, points that are so important to you that you would rather not publish your story than have it ruined.  Still, what I’m finding out in my experience of writing “Jane Doe” and now “Cricket and Grey” is that you have to absolutely be smitten and absorbed and completely invested in your story to write anything worth reading but how it unfolds is something that is flexible.  If the way you wrote it is confusing to a professional editor then it pays to listen and ask yourself how you can improve your plot so that readers will follow absolutely unaware of you laboring behind the words.  You want the reader not to know you’re there.

Unless that’s the specific style of the writing.

The important thing is to be willing to improve your book.

A writer serves the writing, not the other way around.

I can’t believe I just said that.  I’m going to leave it, because it’s true.

Naturally, if an editor told me they thought Grey should actually be from Wisconsin instead of Scotland I’d tell them to “EFF OFF EEDJIT!”

However, if they said “lay off the Scots slang, it’s too heavy handed” I think I’d listen.

This is where my thoughts are.  This is where my head is.  If I seem distant from friends and family right now it’s because I’m far from everyone.  If I could shut myself away to write eight hours a day, I would.

So much else still hangs uncertain in my life.  My mother is moving in with us in a few weeks.  We’ll have 3 dogs, 4 cats, and 4 people in this house.  We may have to move in three or four months.  All of us.  My kid is a handful right now.  There is the usual life drama.  I’m working hard to get my blue belt in Kung Fu in three months.  I’m working hard to make good food and I still do my official work (the one with the actual paycheck).

The story pulls at me day and night.  I can pay attention to other things for short bursts but there is an urgency now, a complete and desperate need to lock the office door, grow a beard and write.

I have so much to write here, such as a post about the Kung Fu in writing, most hated words, satisfying slang, and I still have that ableist post to finish.

It all waits.

Because I’m not here.  I’m very busy trying to simultaneously kill of and save a person.

I wonder if this is how Vonnegut felt when he wrote?  I wonder if all writers feel this way in the middle of a project?

I don’t know.

I have to go now because I have some responsibilities that have been waiting all morning while I breathed a new smuggler to life named “Butterfly” Jason Jones.

If you need me, good luck.