Writers Write creates writing resources. In this post, we explore the question: How important is style in a story?
Welcome to week 24 of Anthony’s series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week’s post here.
- Continue writing the scenes or chapters of your novel.
- Prep your scenes.
- Consider the style of your book.
Breaking it down
Preparation doesn’t have to be dull
As we hurtle towards the halfway mark of our writing year, you’re probably excited to push forward – to write more productively, to catch up on periods you skipped, or improve your word count.
One method I’ve found that works is to spend five or ten minutes planning your next scene before you go to sleep at night. Keep a note pad or an index card next to your bed. Write down the things you want to get across in that scene before you turn off the light.
This means that while you sleep, your creativity will (hopefully) be at play in the hidden realms of your brain. When you wake up, jot down any ideas, images, or fragments of dialogue that pop into your mind.
When you settle down to write, you won’t feel intimidated by the blank page or the blinking cursor on your screen. You’ll already have your little ‘to-do’ list ready.
I was surprised by how well this worked. The other morning, I woke up and immediately had an idea of how my antagonist would disrupt my heroine’s day – by showing up when she least expected him or was prepared to deal with him.
Story before style?
On the weekend, I watched the movie We Need To Talk About Kevin – yes, I know I should’ve been behind my desk writing.
While I haven’t read Lionel Shriver’s book on which the movie was based, I have to admit I found the story a bit slow. It’s visually arresting and the theme was haunting – in the end, it was a satisfying movie – but it got me thinking. Would it better to tell the story in a more linear and traditional way? Did it overdo the symbolism just a bit? Was there enough empathy for the main character?
I guess it’s very subjective, but the more I read novels and watch movies, I realise that what draws me to a book or movie is the story – the way characters and plot come together in such a way that you’re glued to the screen or can’t wait to turn the next page.
It’s all about the style in a story. As much as a great style can enrich the reading or viewing experience, it won’t be enough if the story is too thin or the characters too distant from the audience.
While writing the scenes of my novel, I’ve made a conscious effort not to worry too much about style. Instead, I try to focus on getting the plot across in the shortest amount of time. I try to focus on what the characters are feeling – and why. The style and tone of the scene should feel as natural as possible – without trying to force it.
As Elmore Leonard says, ‘If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.’
Talk about your book at your peril
The other night I was at dinner with three of my close writer friends – yes, I know I should’ve been home writing. Of course, once deep conversation about our love lives was exhausted, the topic turned to the projects we were working on. ‘What’s your book about?’
By this time we’d switched from red wine to coffee, so I was lucid enough to give a brief description of my novel. ‘Oh, that sounds good – but what if this happened or that happened?’
Yes, it would be interesting if this happened to a character or that happened in the plot. But I’d just spent the weekend batting down the last plot changes and getting some major scenes on paper. What was I to do?
Sometimes friends and first readers – and I always listen to advice of other writers I trust – have great ideas for improving a manuscript. I guess it would be foolish to ignore their advice. I’ll definitely keep their comments in mind as I work on my book this week.
But at the same time, you also can’t get too distracted by this advice. If it will help your book, grab it with both hands. But if it doesn’t serve your story and your characters, then it’s best to let it go. Who do you talk to about your novel?
Timelock — 2.5 to 5 hours
Spend a half-hour or full hour a day writing your book.
5 Quick Hacks
- If you don’t have time to write a full scene, give it a quick and dirty draft – write it as a five-minute short story.
- Imagine you have to write a report on the status of your novel. What would be the highlights or successes? What would be the challenges? Sometimes seeing it written down can help you refocus.
- Think back to the last book you read or movie you watched. How would you describe the style of the piece? Did it add to your enjoyment of it? Or simply detract?
- Have a conversation with an ‘imaginary editor’ about your book. What kind of questions would they ask?
- Have the same conversations with the characters in your book. What would they ask about what you’re doing to them? What answers would you give?
Pin it, quote it, believe it:
‘The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.’ — Philip Roth