• Chapter Twenty Two - Style

    24 August 2010

    I think one of the things young writers worry about most is style. Should you write in the first or third person? Use big words and long sentences, or simple words and short sentences? There’s no one correct answer here. Style is a very personal thing. What I would recommend is to try and write the sort of stories that you would like to read. Don’t worry about impressing other people or trying to fit into a certain style of writing. Be your own judge and your own guide. Go with what you heart tells you, and write in the way that brings you the most enjoyment. In addition to that advice, here are a couple of old blog entries on the subject.

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    Edited more of Hell’s Horizon. It’s tightening up nicely. I did most of my major work on it during my last edit, but there are still plenty of lines which can be improved by trimming a word here or altering the structure there. I like my stories to flow, for people to be able to read the paragraphs swiftly and effortlessly, without having to struggle to understand a line. Some writers want their readers to pause, to study the words, to reflect—their style is all about making readers aware that they’re reading. I prefer to immerse my readers, to have them give themselves over to the story, to flow along with it and lose track of time and the world around them, to feel like they’re really in the story. I don’t think either style is, in and of itself, better than the other, though I know most serious critics prefer the cerebral books—many frown on books which are “just” entertaining. but personally I prefer books that flow. I’ve read and enjoyed books that don’t—such as Ulysses by Joyce, or Gunter Grass’s novels—but all things considered, I read books primarily because I love stories. And I make no apologies for that, since I consider story-telling one of the purest and best ways a person can pass their time.

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    A fan called Trevor sent the following email: The story I’ve been coming up with has been all Third Person, but now I’m considering First. I was just wondering what is it you like about First Person perspective? I’ve been writing a Pros and Cons list but I still can’t decide what to do. Thanks for taking the time to read my question.


    This is something each writer must decide for themselves every time they sit down to tell a story. I suspect that most actually never give it that much consideration and simply plump for the good old-fashioned third-person approach, since it’s such an industry standard. Every way of writer has its plus points and minuses. For the most part I prefer first person because it lets me get very close to the main character, and tell my story very swiftly—it’s great for pace and personal insights. A big downside is that I can only ever describe what my main character sees and experiences. That can sometimes be a problem—it means, for instance, in a big war scene I can’t cut from one part of the action to another, or provide an overview of what’s going on.


    I’ve actually written lots of unpublished books in the third person, and The Thin Executioner and the four Mr Crepsley booker were written that way. In fact, when I started Lord Loss, I planned to write it in the third person. But after the first couple of pages, I realised I wasn’t happy with the way it was going. I felt this was an occasion when I needed to identify completely with the main character, in order to fully put across the story. So I stopped, went back and started again, and as soon as I did, I KNEW that first-person was the right way in this case. Ultimately you just have to go with your gut instinct. You can rationalise it all you want, and think about it until the cows come home, but I think that deep down, every writer KNOWS the type of voice that any particular story of theirs requires. And if they don’t know it in advance, they’ll fingure it out as soon as they begin writing, as I did with Lord Loss. If it FEELS wrong, it IS wrong—so my advice would be to pay attention to your gut, and stop and try another approach if something inside you tells you to.


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