I must admit, I’ve always been drawn to an author’s style of writing as much as the story. Maybe that comes from years of teaching literature, maybe not. Maybe it’s just the way my mind wraps around the text.
To me, style’s not something you can force and get away with. I know, I’ve tried. And I’m not referring to formal and informal. It’s more than that. I think it’s something that just is but takes time, effort, and patience to fully develop. Sometimes, you have to dig for it. It’s like voice. Have you ever loved a particular character because of how she “sounds” on the page? That’s her voice. which, of course, is a reflection of the author’s own. And what I really enjoy is a voice that lights up the page. And, for me, that’s part of style.
How do we find our voice?
What works for me is to start with an individual, that is, a particular character. I have to become that character–get under her skin and find out who she really is. Truthfully, I don’t know in the beginning, but, gradually, after I’ve dug around for a bit, she reveals herself to me. When I attempt to begin with a particular type, I usually end up with an empty vessel.
Obviously, we as authors must find our own voice, and it’s not always an easy thing. Again, I know because of my classroom experience with my students. Whether we were in the process of writing the critical essay or our own personal stories or essays, finding voice was one of the most difficult tasks. It certainly wasn’t dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.
Why is that?
What I’ve discovered is that the writer has to actually let go and let flow. And I’m not saying forget all rules of good writing. Granted, there may be some who really don’t care if you know anything about mechanics and grammar, but I dare say that the majority do. No, what I mean by let go and let flow, is to listen to who you are or to who your character is. Don’t try to mimic someone else’s voice, which I’ve tried (I love Wallace Stevens, and he was my model in my early attempts at writing fiction. It didn’t work, by the way).
It took me awhile to figure out how I, personally, could translate myself onto the page as a fiction writer with my individual style. One method that worked for me in the beginning was to get all comfy in an easy chair with my laptop, close my eyes, and visualize myself as the character in my story. I even spoke her words, cried, and screamed when necessary so I could actually feel as though I were in her shoes (this is actually true–I know it’s strange).
In Dancing Naked in the Rain, Megan, the main character, began as a character who wanted to be a full-time writer, sort of like me at the time–teacher/part-time writer, so I didn’t have any idea how she was going to develop, but I did my darndest to live within her as I wrote, sharing her time with Jake, her lover (oh, yeah), walking with her through the Celtic graveyard (I’d really been there when I traveled to Scotland, so that helped), and walking out on those “limbs of daring” with her, trying my best to share in her fear. I took what I knew about the cairn and made it hers. Believe me, her experience developed into so much more than my own. She wanted Jake so badly that she was willing to risk her life to be with him. (See my blog Drinking Water.)
Now, I know, you might be thinking that this lady has style and voice all mixed up, but you know what? They are mixed up. As I said early on, I’m not speaking about grammar and mechanics, although those two bug-a-boos can and do play into style and voice. Maybe Cyril Connolly says it best: “An author arrives at a good style when his language performs what is required of it without shyness.” And it’s that shyness that kept me and others I know from finding our voices as easily as we wanted.
It was while reading such writers as Shakespeare, Dickens, Steinbeck, Faulkner, Wilde, and many others, that I realized why I enjoyed them so much. It wasn’t what they said as much as it was how they said it. It’s choosing the right word and knowing how to use it–which takes practice.
And I guess that’s what I’m trying to do as a writer–find my voice. I’ve had to search around inside myself for quite a time. It hasn’t been easy. And I know I’m not there yet. I hope to keep getting stronger each time I sit down. I’ve always loved change, and I’d be disappointed if I didn’t.