21 Apr 2009

Kurt Vonnegut, Miss Snark and the Search for Your Unique Style

This blog is largely about trying to earn some money writing. It is therefore rare that I discuss writing styles and the mechanics of writing. However, sometimes I do come across interesting articles and don't feel this is going too far astray sharing some of them.

As I recently wrote in The Statusphere for Writers and Journalists, a writer's voice is one's brand - we have little else to offer save for words that move to action. But does that voice sound like your own, or has it been fabricated in a vain attempt to succour success? As Kurt Vonnegut says, there are styles that demand the eradication of the writer - the literary equivalent of a government form. If that is your metier then the style of clarity and brevity is your zenith. In Vonnegut: How To Write With Style, the author stresses that whatever voice you choose to adopt clarity and brevity are not so much matters of style as of good hygiene. Rambling should be preserved for country walks.

To find a subject you care about, and to sound like yourself, are recurring themes. Aping another writer's style is not going to reproduce their success. What can be successful is to transpose a style from one genre to another. The literary geek or the barrow-boy market analyst both work because of the seemingly counter-intuitive juxtaposition of style and content. Find your own voice... then do a bit of oral hygiene before inflicting it upon your readers.

Talking of hygiene, pity the literary agents who have to read through what nobody else will ever read because it is just too awful! Miss Snark is a literary agent with a blog. Actually, the blog has been silent for a long time but has been kept online as it has a wealth of advice for writers, especially novelists. Her Crapometer is particularly revealing in how she judges the first page of a novel. Here both style and content are crucial. There is no point trying to sound like an author who has already been published. Also, the imagination is an infinitely fertile plane and although there is nothing new under the sun you can cast new shadows. The novel as novelty has to be taken seriously if you're going to get an agent to read more than the first few pages.

I don't think that creating one's own style is all that difficult. I think what is difficult is putting an end to the thought that copying someone else's will duplicate their success. In a world full of noise being unique is the first step to being heard.

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