One of the hardest things writers face – even if everything else is on par – is that last detail of the art; the style. The actual choice of words.
These are what clothe the skeleton of structure, of content; they give a particular feel to the writing. It is the style –the choice and pattern of words – that makes a particular passage an author’s own.
Mastering style – having control of the words – is as important as any other aspect of writing. It’s also remarkably difficult to master.
So try this. One of the ways music composition is taught is to write something ‘in the style of…’ – forcing the student to figure out just what composers such as Rachmaninov, Debussy, Bach and so forth actually did in order to get their characteristic sounds. (Last year, I watched 70s prog-rock icon and all round British comedian and musician Rick Wakeman play, live, a string of nursery rhymes “in the style of” these composers. Cool.)
It works for writing, too. Try it. Pick your favourite author. Look at the way they’ve assembled the words – at the pacing, the vocabulary, the organisation of the sentences, the tone. Make notes. Then try it yourself. It’ll be slow at first, lots of trial and error – but after a while you’ll be able to write ‘in the style of…’
I’m not suggesting such pastiches should become your real style. You have to find your own voice. But working out how other people have done it takes you a long way towards doing that – and towards discovering a good deal more, often by surprise, about how others have done it.
Do you ever try writing ‘in the style of…’?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013