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Writing Excercise: What’s Your Style?

February 19, 2014

Happy Tuesday! A special shout out this week to the Invisible Ninja Cat who just got accepted into grad school! She’s an amazing, fantastic person and is going to be a brilliant engineer! I’m really proud of you, lovely. I’m going to brag about you at work tomorrow.

Besides that news, who wants learn about writing style? As any reader knows, every writer has their own unique style—both taken in the specific sense of sentence structure and in the larger sense of content. It’s important for writers to be aware of their style and tendencies, so then they can play to their strengths and improve their weaknesses. I do annotate, however, that aspects of style are neither good nor bad, inherently. They’re just…there: it depends on what you want to achieve with your work that makes such-and-such so.

As a good exercise, I took a bit to think about my own writing style, and I encourage all you writers out there to do the same because knowledge is power. To illustrate my points, I’ve pulled some quotes and concepts from the beginning of The Christening when appropriate. For clarity, it’s split it up into syntax/diction and content. And bullet points because bullet points make life easier.

Syntax/Diction

  • The biggest one here is I tend to have a long paragraph of build up paired with a one sentence paragraph of revelatory or all-encompassing statement.
    • Example, from when Brother Conn is upset with Brother Suibhne for favoring the monklings instead of him after a Viking attack: How…how dare Suibhne? Conn had saved the monastery! Protected everyone! He was a warrior for God, and he was going to reform the monastery, make it able to protect itself! Make them all true warriors as he was—a Godly army! And not one word of thanks, not one kind glance, not one nod of approval! Instead he favored those–those irresponsible children! One a bastard of the abbot and another a low-class thief who ate the monastery’s bread without paying, surviving on their good will and hospitality. At least Maclinmun came from a good Irish family, but his Christian blood was mixed with that of foul pagans and druids! Mere superstition and witchcraft! How could he do this? He remembered: Suibhne and Conn were together, thinking. Him teaching Conn to make parchment. Conn—

              He wished for another Viking to kill.

  • I tend to have long, sometimes convoluted sentences
    • Example, from Brother Conn about how his fighting skills fits into monastic life: He felt alive whenever his fighting prowess was used to protect what was precious to him: when he had first come here, his brothers did not view his skills as a boon, but he had patiently demonstrated his use.
  • I tend to use em dashes, colons, and sentences fragments. See above for examples.
  • I tend to use modifying phrases.
    • Example, from a discussion the monastery’s view of death: The dead were born again, transfigured into angels, to be reunited with those they had loved and lost, to see the God to whom the monastic brotherhood sang all their prayers.
  • I have this tendency to have descriptions that end up sounding like a bullet point list of what everything looks like. I need to work on it, because sometimes it’s not appropriate.
    • Example, from when the monklings are hiding: Situated so no one would see them, the three of them huddled shoulder to shoulder in the monastery’s graveyard, just under a hill’s crest. There were shouts far off, and smoke of a now extinguished fire still polluted the blue sky, the wind quickly spreading its haze. Ash smeared their white faces and clothes and peppered their varying shades of recently tonsured ginger hair, the shaved bald tops of their heads shining with sweat and soot. Their robes were too big for them.

 

Content

  • I consider myself a firm believer in research and do research beforehand on a lot of my stories. It’s a must for historical fiction, but even fantasy is important. Yes, I am aware that half the point of fantasy is that you get to make stuff up, but being aware of the lore, aka what’s already been made up, is important. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel, or worse, be completely unaware you are reinventing the wheel and have to deal with copyright. Worse still, look sort of like an idiot to those who know what they are talking about.
    • Example: Cornelia Funke is perfectly within her rights to have her dragons feed off moonlight in her book Dragon Rider, but Skyrim is not going to convince me I’m fighting a dragon when the smallish beast lacks forelimbs and is therefore a wyvern. Wyverns have a pony-horse relationship with dragons. They’re the same species, but they are traditionally smaller, fiercer, more nimble, and, most distinctly, lack forelimbs. This distinction was also one of the reasons I was disappointed in The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug film because Smaug is supposed to be a dragon, but his forelimbs were incorporated into his wings, like a bat’s, and made him more wyvern-ish. Boo, Peter Jackson. Boo.
  • I’m passable at imitating other people’s writing styles and exploit this ability to skip around genres. While professionally I don’t think I’ll venture far from fantasy and historical fiction, I like skipping around genres. During one of my creative writing courses, the class was supposed to sum up my writing style based on two of my stories, and I purposefully submitted pieces in different genres.
    • Example: The Bound Chronicles are historical fiction, “Howl” is a work of supernatural/fantasy, and “I think it is childish” is a creative non-fiction rant.
  • I usually have one character that’s a bit crazy, outside the norm, and/or extremely introverted. I find it interesting.
    • Example: Brother Conn is psychopath. Dubslaine is a psychic.
  • Most of my stories are character driven, and there are heaps upon heaps of internal conflict.
    • For example, see the Valentine’s Day Excerpt. In it, Maclinmun is already struggling between his desire to fulfill his white martyrdom by leaving Ireland and his desire for his family and village life. This only gets worse as the story goes.
  • In contrast with the above, I’m not very good at plot-driven stories, where the characters don’t change as much. My Sci-fi novel is actually a giant self-imposed exercise of trying to get the hang of this, because future Bound Chronicles stories need me to become better.
  • Another thing I’m not so good at is writing soap opera drama. It sort of bewilders me how much the characters manipulate and cajole one another. You only have to look at Charlotte Blackwood’s book and fanfiction descriptions to get drowned in the stuff, though, so I recommend looking into her if you like it. Especially her Cat and Mouse trilogy.
  • Homoeroticism happens a lot. Not always, but some days I feel like I have queer subtext goggles welded to my face.
    • Example: Maclinmun squeezed Macbeth’s knee once before scooting closer to the fire.

It’s in the content section where I feel I’m especially predictable and therefore have the most trouble. But again, these are not a list of problems my writing has: this is a list of what my stories contain and what you can expect if you ever read them. This exercise was actually really fun—try it out yourself!

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