Tweaking Style

When I started writing my current project a few months ago, to have chapters to send to the workshop, I noticed that the prose felt too modern. Part of that was the setting–I hadn’t done a lot of research yet, so some things were too modern in places (and I still haven’t done the research, so they’re still wrong).

Research is a relatively easy thing to fix, but it’s only a small part of the problem. The more difficult part is the style. I’ve been reading too much science fiction and urban fantasy and it’s affecting the way I write. Also, most of what I’ve written recently has been science fiction, and that tone has stuck with me.

I just reread Le Guin’s essay “From Elfland to Poughkeepsie,” in which she discusses the importance of style in fantasy and attacks what she calls journalistic prose. A fantasy world, she says, is constructed entirely from the writer’s vision, so the only voice that has ever spoken there is the writer’s. (This essay makes me wonder what she thinks of urban fantasy.)

I don’t have any desire to be a master stylist–I prefer transparent prose–but secondary-world fantasy shouldn’t sound just like urban fantasy or science fiction. The bits I’ve written over the past few days have been much better in that respect because I’ve been conscious of the problem. The next step, aside from doing the research that I need to do, is to sink into some 18th century writing until it rubs off. And then keep writing in the right voice for this story until it becomes unconscious again.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Tweaking Style

  1. Yay for transparent prose.

    I spent years learning how to write transparent prose, because it was what I liked to read and because it seemed the most broadly useful tone (you can write anything in it).

    It didn’t keep me from being frustrated when the first people from my Clarion to be commercially successful were the ones whose voice was further from transparent prose. Having a distinctive voice seems to grab an editor’s attention in a way that transparent prose does not.

  2. I think you’re right about distinctive voices, especially for more literary pieces and short fiction.

    I would think you can still have a distinctive voice with transparent prose, but it would be harder. Don’t ask me how. But I don’t see voice and style as being equivalent.

  3. Pingback: Blog post roundup | Elizabeth Shack

  4. Sure. Any prose will have a distinctive voice, but in good transparent prose that distinctiveness is often subtle. Understated. Over the length of a novel it’ll be apparent, but over the length of a short story it can easily be overlooked.

    The sort of really distinctive voice that emerges from, for example, regional writing or ethnic writing, tends to grab an editor’s attention.

    Getting the editor’s attention doesn’t guarantee a sale, of course, but it’s a good start.

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