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Inspired Creative Writing 4

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Magazine

Style is everything!

This is the fourth excerpt from Inspired Creative Writing by Alexander Gordon Smith from the brisk and entertaining 52 Brilliant Ideas series. This month, Style is everything!

Fourth excerpt

Style is everything!

The style you choose to write in can say an awful lot about you. Don’t be shy and don’t be false, just act natural: like your sense of dress, your writing style should be personal and unique to you.

‘Style is everything.’ I’m sure most of you have heard that before. I heard it all the time at school from the lads decked in cool Reebok trainers (tongue pulled out) and fashionable fluorescent shell suits.

52 Brilliant Ideas – Inspired creative writing


No matter how much you try and convince yourself, style in any walk of life is important, and whether poetry or prose, readers respond to style as much as subject matter. But in order to write persuasively, that style has to reflect your true self.

WORD UP

You can’t ignore the fact that literary texts are made up of words, and the choice of which words to use and why – style – is one of the fundamental questions posed by any writer. With the ability to say the same thing countless different ways, what do we hope to achieve by picking one over the other? It’s like deciding what to wear when you step outside – you want your clothes to say something about you to whoever you’re meeting. When writing, you want the style to reflect what you’re trying to say. You wouldn’t try and put a serious message across in a limerick, just as you wouldn’t turn up for a meeting with your publisher wearing just your underwear.

Here’s an idea for you...

Read your work aloud. You don’t have to read it to anybody, just do what Yeats did and pace back and forth reading to yourself. Listen for any discomfort in the language, any words that don’t sound right, any clichés you didn’t spot when writing. And listen to the shape of it, how well it rolls off the tongue, how well each line works and whether they combine to make a well-rounded whole. You may feel a little silly talking to yourself, but it’s worth it.

DRESS NATURAL

Your writing style – like your dress sense – will probably have a great deal to do with your personality. You might embark on a piece of writing using the language of your neighbourhood, or your childhood, a style of speaking that’s extremely familiar to you and highly colloquial on the page. You might be aiming for something more sophisticated, mixing a higher register of speech in with your familiar vocal patterns. Or you may be trying a completely different style, one as far removed from everyday speech as possible using language you’ve picked up from books or research.

It’s up to you what style you want to use, but try to stay true to yourself. I know that sounds a little new age, but if you try to write in a style that you’re not comfortable with, simply because you want to create a more literary effect, you risk sounding false. That doesn’t mean don’t play around with new registers – try every style imaginable: humble, simple, rude, posh, learned, scientific, nonsense, arcane – but if you start including words that really don’t fit in with your style, or feel you’re straining to keep up a certain tone of language, it’s best to pause and evaluate what message or mood you’re trying to convey.

KEEP IT REAL

Quite a few writers try and elevate the style of their writing unnecessarily, often to try and impress a lover/professor/parent. But more often than not the result comes across as artificial: this isn’t the writer speaking honestly, it’s literary window-dressing. Drop the act, and just be yourself.

The trick to succeeding is quite simply to stop trying so hard. Don’t try and be different, don’t try and be clever. If you’re reaching for your thesaurus every five minutes and trying to fit in words like antidisestablishmentarianism your sentences or lines will end up like sticky cement, and a reader won’t enjoy traipsing through them. Remember, writing is about communication – use language that you’re comfortable with, and your readers will feel comfortable too. Powerful writing uses the living, breathing language of everyday speech. And for the more experimental poets among you, writing with everyday language doesn’t mean creating everyday poetry: just look at e. e. cummings.

Try another idea...

Style is who you are, it reflects the kind of person you’ve chosen to be.

Defining idea...

‘Style is life! It is the very life blood of thought!’

GUSTAVE FLAUBERT

How did it go?

Q Whenever Beckham changes his hair I follow suit. Is it OK for me to emulate other people’s writing style in the same way?

A If you read a great deal when writing it’s often tempting to try to reproduce the elements of a text that you enjoy. This respectful admiration is fine, and trying to emulate another writer when you first start out can be a useful way to experiment with other styles. Try as many different styles as you like, your own unique way of writing will probably evolve from these exercises. However, emulation can be restrictive if you come to rely on it. You want your work to be your own, not lost in someone else’s shadow.

Q I’m always being told I’m a bossy boots. It’s OK to adopt a didactic style in your poetry, isn’t it?

A The same points can also be applied to lecturing when writing: don’t try too hard to convince people of what you’re trying to say. If you make your message too explicit, people will feel they’re being dictated to. Trust yourself to pick out the right details to convey your message more subtly and with greater power.

Q Can I flirt with those bad boys postmodernism and experimentation?

A It’s OK to play around with new ways of writing, but don’t rupture and fragment your text with flashy tricks just to look as though you’ve discovered something new. This structural play isn’t originality, it’s only a way of avoiding the need to create realistic characters and develop your own style. Natural writing isn’t synonymous with boring writing, but experimental writing often is. Have faith in your own unique way of writing. Your own voice may take time to come, but it will.

 

The first excerpt

The second excerpt

The third excerpt

The fifth excerpt

Inspired Creative Writing by Alexander Gordon Smith is published at £12.99 as part of the 52 Brilliant Ideas series by Infinite Ideas. To buy this book please visit their website at www.infideas.com.

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