inverarity: (Alexandra Quick)
[personal profile] inverarity
Now and then I talk about about my writing style, my technique, my efforts to improve my craft. It's not just because I'd like to be published someday, but this writing thing, even if it never becomes more than a hobby, is still something I'd like to be really good at.

I am pretty clearly a "storyteller." Most people who like my writing like the story and the characters. They like my plotting, and the consequences they see unfolding as I bring my plans to fruition.

My writing style, at best, is readable and technically proficient. Now and then I polish a sentence I particularly like, and I've managed a few nice bits of imagery, some description that I thought was particularly fine, but I don't have the wit, the finesse, the mastery of vocabulary, of some writers whom I particularly admire.

That's not to say that I want to write like them — above all, I want to write like myself. But as I work on AQATWA, now and then I find myself trying to polish up some prose, or promising myself I'll go back later and make it prettier, and I realize... despite the fact that I know shiny prose when I see it, despite the fact that I do have a rather expansive vocabulary, despite the fact that I fancy myself somewhat knowledgeable about literature... more often or not I don't know just what I should do, or even could do, to "improve" a sentence.

I don't know if this is a flaw or not. I mean, there's nothing wrong with writing clean prose that is pleasant to read and carries no particular signature style. Lots of writers write in this kind of plain-prose style. It's not like I aspire to be "literary."

Still, I do look wistfully at some real wordsmiths and wonder how their prose all comes out looking very much like something crafted.




The universe dilated within him, above him. Something like joy stirred in Lancaster’s being, a sublime ecstasy born of terror. His heart felt as if it might burst, might leap from his chest. His cheeks were wet. Drops of blood glittered on his bare arms, the backs of his hands, his thighs, his feet. Black as the blackest pearls come undone from a string, the droplets lifted from him, drifted from him like a slow motion comet tail, and floated toward the road, the fields. For the first time in an age he heard nothing but the night sounds of crickets, his own breath. His skull was quiet.


— Laird Barron, The Siphon


The architecture of the Minotaur’s heart is ancient. Rough hewn and many chambered, his heart is a plodding laborious thing, built for churning through the millennia. But the blood it pumps—the blood it has pumped for five thousand years, the blood it will pump for the rest of his life—is nearly human blood. It carries with it, through his monster’s veins, the weighty, necessary, terrible stuff of human existence: fear, wonder, hope, wickedness, love. But in the Minotaur’s world it is far easier to kill and devour seven virgins year after year, their rattling bones rising at his feet like a sea of cracked ice, than to accept tenderness and return it.


— Steven Sherrill, The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break


He was a nice guy, Jimmy, but rich or not he was dumb as a bag of retards, and smoking all that weed didn't help.


— Chuck Wendig, Blackbirds

(Okay, that last line is not exactly genius, but Wendig produces punchy one-liners like that in every paragraph.)


Some people, he says, they hide themselves away from the eyes of the world. They hunker down and shiver. They find four walls high enough to put between them and everything else. Those people, to them the world is a frightful place. See, you and me, we're different. When we are called on to move, we move. It don't matter the cause or the distance. Revenge or ministration, reason or folly - it's all the same to us.


— Alden Bell, The Reapers are the Angels


Jenny Marzen made millions of dollars, as opposed to nickels, by writing novels that got seriously reviewed while selling big. Amy had skimmed her first one, a mildly clever thing about a philosophy professor who discovers her husband is cheating on her with one of her grad students, and who, while feigning ignorance of the affair, drives the girl mad with increasingly brutal critiques and research tasks, at one point banishing her to Beirut, first to learn fluent Arabic and then to read Avicenna's Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb, housed in the American University. This was, Amy thought, a showoffy detail that hinted at Marzen's impressive erudition but was probably arrived at within five Googling minutes.


— Jincy Willett, Amy Falls Down


The lightning bug, or firefly, is neither a bug nor a fly, but a beetle. I like bug, because it has a cozy sound, a hugging sound, a snug sound, it fits her, my Bug.

Deep in the dark blue air sing these lives that make the summer night. The lightning bug does not sing. But of all these lives, it alone, the lightning bug alone, is visible. The others are heard but not seen, felt but not seen, smelled but not seen.


— Donald Harington, Lightning Bug


Ree Dolly stood at the break of day on her cold front steps and smelled coming flurries and saw meat. Meat hung from trees across the creek. Carcasses hung pale of flesh with fatty gleam from low limbs of saplings in the side yards. Three halt haggard houses formed a kneeling rank on the far creekside and each had two or more skinned torsos dangling by rope from sagged limbs, venison left to the weather for two nights and three days so the early blossoming of decay might round the flavor, sweeten that meat to the bone.


— Daniel Woodrell, Winter's Bone


In the evening they came out upon a mesa that overlooked all the country to the north. The sun in the west lay in a holocaust where there rose a steady column of small desert bats and to the north along the trembling perimeter of the world dust was blowing down the void like the smoke of distant armies. The crumpled butcherpaper mountains lay in sharp shadowfold under the long blue dusk and in the middle distance the glazed bed of a dry lake lay shimmering like the mare imbrium and herds of deer were moving north in the last of the twilight, harried over the plain by wolves who were themselves the color of the desert floor.


— Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West


And yet there is not in France, with its rich variety of soil and climate, a blade, a leaf, a root, a sprig, a peppercorn, which will grow to maturity under conditions more certain than those that have produced this horror. Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.


— Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities


He gave me a look of great contempt; as I supposed, for venturing, even by implication, to draw a parallel between a lack of affluence that might, literally, affect my purchase of rare vintages, and a figure of speech intended delicately to convey his own dire want for the bare necessities of life. He remained silent for several seconds, as if trying to make up his mind whether he could ever bring himself to speak to me again; and then said gruffly: 'I've got to go now.”


— Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time


One ought not to judge her: all children are Heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb high trees and say shocking things and leap so very high grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one. But, as in their reading and arithmetic and drawing, different children proceed at different speeds. (It is well known that reading quickens the growth of a heart like nothing else.) Some small ones are terrible and fey, Utterly Heartless. Some are dear and sweet and Hardly Heartless At All. September stood very generally in the middle on the day the Green Wind took her, Somewhat Heartless, and Somewhat Grown.


— Catherynne Valente, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making


Here I pause, having carried you, reader, from gate to gate. From the locked and fog-shrouded gate of our necropolis to this gate, with its curling wisps of smoke. This gate, which is perhaps the largest in existence, perhaps the largest ever to exist. It was by entering that first gate that I set my feet upon the road that brought me to this second gate. And surely when I entered this second gate, I began to walk a new road. From that great gate forward, for a long time, it was to lie outside the City Imperishable, and among the forests and grasslands, mountains and jungles of the north. Here, I pause. If you wish to walk no farther with me, reader, I cannot blame you. It is no easy road.


— Gene Wolfe, The Shadow of the Torturer


Mortimer Citytatters is a midnight crow and a sinister spiv, but he knows what people want in wartime is a story. So he tells them: spine-chillers, bone-warmers, knee-tremblers, colly-wobblers, stories that drill your teeth, that perform open-heart surgery, stories that make the blind walk and the lame speak. It’s a good all-weather business, combined with a spot of common or garden begging, that makes ends meet.


— Georgina Bruce, Crow Voodoo


So, I can't do that. I kind of wish I could, but I think it's a mistake for any writer to try to emulate another writer's style.

But I do, at least, have a knack for stories, and interesting characters. When I can put in the writing time. That's the other thing I envy: writers who can churn out thousands of words a day. A feat I haven't managed in... far too long.

AQATWA is at 32 chapters and 166,000 words.

Date: 2014-12-19 04:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] indigo-mouse.livejournal.com
I downloaded the Alexandra Quick books and took them on vacation with me. While I will admit to a certain amount of skipping around to my favorite bits, I thoroughly enjoyed them. I also noticed, because I went from reading Thorn Circle to Stars Above that you the effort you have been putting in to hone your writing is paying off. There is a appreciable difference in the writing.

I'm waiting patiently for Worlds Away, because, really, what else can I do?

Date: 2014-12-19 07:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ng14916.livejournal.com
I can appreciate well-written prose but to me it's just frosting. It's nice if it's there but it's not necessary and if there isn't any substance then the best prose in the world can't save it. I enjoy your stories and your characters a lot. On the rare occasion when I manage to write a decent sentence, it's usually because I kept rhythm in mind. A history professor I had once made our class read Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and he told us that the reason Lincoln and other great speech makers of the time were good at giving compelling speeches with vivid imagery was that back in the day almost everyone spent a lot of time in church listening to sermons and reading the Bible. I haven't tried it myself, but maybe that would help? Of course, you wouldn't want to be quite so grandiose when writing most scenes.

Date: 2014-12-20 07:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] graeme sutton (from livejournal.com)
Don't go changing man.

Date: 2014-12-29 11:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nickname (from livejournal.com)
I have an answer for you, but it might not be helpful.

In my view, this is exactly the point where you can determine a writer's talent. If you really need to, you can learn to write to a degree -- how to draft a story, things to take care of, tricks to use, methods to employ, how to structure sentences and paragraphs and chapters. But all that stops at just around this point.

With no intention to imply any kind of equal footing with authors such as you quoted: I did find that in writing, certain things came surprisingly easy to me, things I saw others struggling with. And thus I imagine it's the same at a higher level -- I'm sure those authors work hard on their prose (there might be hours in every paragraph you quoted, until it was like that -- perfectly right), but in the end, it's their talent that sets them apart, and there's not a whole lot anyone can do about that.

(And if there is a way to learn how to write beautiful prose, after all, I haven't heard of it yet, and very dearly wish to discover it soon :P)


In other matters, I hope you and your loved ones had a wonderful Christmas, and I wish you the best for 2015 (hopefully with more AQ ;) )

-Sesc
Edited Date: 2014-12-29 11:36 pm (UTC)

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