Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Difference Between 'Suck' and 'Style'.

There's stylistic repetition. And then there's stylistic repetition repetition repetition repetition repetition repetition repetition...

Ad nauseum.

We all know that style and voice are very fragile things, and at least I believe that they can make or break a story. I know that in some of my favorite books (Slaughterhouse-Five comes to mind), if they weren't written in the way they were written, I wouldn't have been interested in finishing the book at all.

And for the sake of style, sometimes you have to do something out of your comfort zone, and the story should be all the better for it. At the moment, I'm staring down the throat of the beast, wondering where the fine line would be to get rid of the extraneous lines that come with fast drafts -- it is Fast Draft February, after all -- and still preserve the sound of the narrator.

Eh. I'll figure it out later. Or, at least, my betas will for me.

Well, we all know that writing 'bad' can be turned into writing 'good' in particular situations, like "Flowers for Algernon" had the improper grammar and bad spelling, but that was specifically done to get a point across about characterization.

And now for the inflammatory point of the day: this is why I don't read a whole lot of YA. I remember picking up YA books in the bookstore and being annoyed by the style, usually because the author tried to capture a teenage voice. Whether they succeeded or not, I don't care, it's just that I'm not too fond of the sound of teenagers talking. The story may have been good, but if I had to listen to the average teenager tell it (as many of the main characters would like you to believe), I wouldn't stick around to let them finish.

That said, I don't really think there's an absolute line between 'suck' and 'style.' As Potter Stewart, Supreme Court Justice, said about hardcore pornography, I'll say about style: It's a tricky thing to define, but I'll know it when I see it.

So, let's talk. Where do you draw the line? Have you had any style failures? Seen anything audacious that actually worked?


Andrew Carmichael said...

For me, style and voice are my definite forte. In both academic and...non-academic writing, people always reference my writing voice and style as my strong point and the main reason they like my piece. I don't know what this means in the long run, or if it means anything at all, but that's just how it goes.

Because of this, though, I don't think I've ever really had a moment where I couldn't get something to work as I wanted it to, style-wise. Sometimes I feel like my character is a little flat, or the plot's confusion, but generally I'm okay with my voices. And, somehow, I can do a pretty wide range of voices and styles, too. This probably comes from being very observant of other people and their actions.

And, just to be clear, I don't think that my style is anywhere near perfect or amazing, though I do think that's possible for someone (aka, I think David Levithan has amazing and drool-worthy style and voice in all of his writing). It all comes with practice, I'd say.

SuzanneYoung said...

Dialogue is my favorite thing to write and I think I do it well. For me, my stories have to be fast paced to keep my interest. But sometimes, that makes it impossible for me to write certain books that I've wanted to finish for a while.

So while I love my style, it does limit what I write. Eventually, I'll keep learning and experimenting, but right now I'm comfortable where I am.

My voice comes through in my books, I think, even when my characters are different. Style over Substance isn't my thing either. And I think if you don't like teenagers, then you probably shouldn't be trying to read YA.

But I would say, the majority of YA books that I read, are done REALLY WELL. Plus, I'm totally guilty of repetition in my sentences. lol. But I love it. Love it. lol.

Sage said...

There are some voices I've read that are way dry, and I'm not a fan of them. Some that are wordy, and I'm not a fan of them either. I wouldn't want to mention specific authors.

One of my RPG-fanfics had a narrator who was very rambly. I didn't finish it because after the first chapter, I showed a writing friend who pointed out how hard it was to read. That's really the only voice problem I've not been able to make work.

The voice, which is the MC's in first person, of one of my novels, I swear is what draws people into it. Her voice gets them through the slightly slower beginning to the exciting middle and end.

*My* voice, though, I'm not sure what that is in my novels, whether it is engaging or not. I can only point to Tia's voice and Cindy's voice when I'm doing first-person narrative and say whether they are.

Haphazard said...

Sagers, rambling is what I'm worried about. My MC is extremely rambly -- in fact, half the story is him rambling. It's in his character to ramble, and I'd like to think that most of his rambling is halfway interesting, but that doesn't change the fact that it is, in fact, rambling.

I'd say that he's extremely verbose, at least when talking as the narrator, and not really when talking to everybody else in the story.

If I have time to write and sprawl, I usually write less because I chop up everything into being more concise. My current MC is not that way. I want to embrace the ramble.

Anonymous said...

Heh. I recently did the editorial revisions for my forthcoming YA (Bones of Faerie), and one of the thing I had to do was cut out most of that repetition. I'd been thinking of it as a style thing, but after I went through all my editor's notes, I realized that I could keep the style and feel of the book without quite so much repetition. :-)

Sometimes it's style, and sometimes it's something that just isn't needed. The trick for me still is figuring out the difference!

courtney said...

Is technical style (word repetition, lack of quotation marks etc, for example) different from voice? Or is voice apart of style? Because I've always separated the two in my mind but that could just be the way my brain works (it probably is).




Either way, all of the lines that have been crossed for me regarding style have been crossed in adult fiction section of the book store and library. Or maybe, more accurately, the postmodern adult fiction section of the library and the bookstore.

SuzanneYoung said...

I don't think it is that common to have overly styled books in the YA section. Of course there are some, but they are not in the majority. It's like picking out a small thing and using it as an excuse to put down YA literature. Just like with our edgy discussions.

I don't think we give editors and publishers enough credit. The good ones weed out the crap a lot of the time.

And I agree Courtneyl. Style and voice are different things. :D