Monday, June 6, 2011

Out of Style

The particular quality of writing most apt to be confused or conflated with voice is style.  Although voice may suggest story, actually provide an atmosphere where characters want something or indulge a particular emotion to the point where something does trigger story, nevertheless, style alone is not a substitute for story.

It has been your position--as long as you felt a position of your own was appropriate--that voice plays a major role in determining style, a metaphorical literary decision of what to wear for a particular story.  Voice is the emergent tone of a story as it works its way toward closure.

Style is arrived at by default, after all the material has been set on the pages, moved about for the best effect, examined for repetitions, and those most idiosyncratic of all decisions, choice of words and the subsequent order of the words chosen.

Style is nudged along into place by sentence length and the nagging urgency of a writer to reflect the visions and experiences of characters as differentiated from her own visions and experiences.  How, you ask, is this done?  It is begun by knowing the characters, sometimes to the point of knowing them better than you know yourself, such knowledge arrived at by constant prodding of the characters into situations where you are on edge with concern for what they might do to the emotions you have loaned them, just as parents and friends may have been concerned about your trustworthiness as related to the borrowing of their bicycles or autos.

Your approach to word-length of sentences and syntax is not something you can plan out in advance in the same manner you prepare a problem to drop into the laps of your characters.  For one thing, you must provide your characters--here you go with metaphor again--with laps into which to drop problems, which is in this case yet another metaphor, indicating vulnerability as the lap in which to drop the challenge.

At no time does style alone have the capacity to bear the responsibility of a story substitute; style augments story, oils the rails against the inertial resistance to story, which is to say soft spots, boring spots, attempts to sell style as story.

Three of the major writers of the past century, two of them Nobel laureates, were splendid stylists, working toward their conclusions in individualized approaches to language.  If we were to add the third Nobel laureate, Steinbeck, to the dissection table, we'd see yet another use of style, one that had in more recent years, been taken to the mat by a number of critics who found his stylistic approach excessive and sentimental.  It was almost as though Steinbeck had not written Of Mice and Men, or, for that matter, The Red Pony, and Fitzgerald, the one non-Nobel winner, was casually tossed aside because of his drinking problems and his work in Hollywood.  So yes, you are adding directness to implication by saying now that Fitzgerald, in much of his work, brought forth the same intensity as Hemingway and Faulkner.

Emotions scared the hell out of Hemingway, even when he was so artful in evoking them in his short stories.  Fitzgerald turned emotions into poetry.  Faulkner, before our very eyes, fought his battle with the past as consequence, allowing his sinuous sentences and paragraphs to demonstrate through style what it was he wrestled with and how he in large measure at least fought his stylistic battles to glorious unlocking of emotional floodgates.

All of these men, and a special, large contingent of women writers--Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, Flannery O'Connor--fought through the mereness of a recognizable style to create the actuality of recognizable feelings.

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