Bias Towards My Own Style?

I just finished a book in which the style of writing felt awkward to me. It took me out of the story and used words in ways I wouldn't even think of doing because it just seems like a horrible idea to me. Not that I didn't enjoy the book. Would I ever read it again? Probably not. Was it a good plot, characters and storyline? Most definitely. Afterwards, I picked up a book by an author I love, whose previous book Cold Mountain I had raced through without taking a breath until the final word (which of course I was sobbing through by that time). Frazier's new book, Thirteen Moons, was like a breath of fresh air for me from the first sentence. I went from feeling like I was a foreigner in the previous book (in which the language and writing had been praised highly in some reviews I'd read) to feeling like I was at home and I could relax into the story without having to be distracted by the writing style, unless there was an extremely good sentence of course. In which case I'd reread the sentence over and over until it just rolled off of my tongue like candy and I'd mark the page so I could revisit the sentence when I felt the need for something beautiful and powerful. However, I am aware that many have criticized Frazier's writing style as dense and perhaps too descriptive. He's been known to go into excruciating detail when describing the surroundings and environment of his novels. He's often wordy. As I've read the criticisms the thought has crossed my mind, hey, that's what people have said about my writing before!

Okay, so I'm not at all comparing my writing at all to Frazier's, that would be, quite frankly, idiotic. He's hands down amazing, and I, well, I'm still unpublished. So there it is. Nonetheless, the fact that I lean towards having a similar style to Frazier does make me think of my favorite authors. As I list them in my head (Isabel Allende, Barbara Kingsolver, Maya Angelou) I recognize that all are very descriptive writers, not at all like the more blunt and awkward style of the book I'd just finished and hadn't connected with. Actually, often I emulate those authors, I read their books desperately trying to find out their tricks and secrets. I steal sentence structures from them, and whatever else I can safely steal from them.

This observation has brought up the question in me: Do we like writers who write like we do? And if so, why is that? Can we not appreciate different styles? Perhaps we just have a preference, like some like chocolate and others like vanilla better. I wouldn't say that I can only read books written in my preferred style, but I will say that I enjoy books much more when it is. It's often difficult for me to get into books that are written in a different style or written badly. I have refused to finish some books that were written badly, but I've always finished books that were written well but in a style that I perhaps wasn't too keen on. So I think I can appreciate different styles of writing, but I won't connect with the story as much as I would a story written in a style that I enjoy more.

In general, the whole idea of "writing styles" sounds awfully vague to me, as if there were clear cut categories that writers are divided on upon their style of writing. Of course it isn't so clear, and there are mixed styles and unique styles, etc. But I do feel that I definitely lean towards a certain style over others, whatever vague category that is. I tried even now to just think of a style "category" for my style of writing and I come up blank and stuttering. It's too complicated to some up in one word, but the closest I could come up with is descriptive. But then there are a lot of different ways of being descriptive, so even that ends up being vague and useless. Unless it's a very extreme and unique style of writing, such as Kerouac's "Beat" writing style, then I don't think people can be categorized so easily.

Do you feel like you prefer one style of writing over another? Does it match your own style?


Mas said...

My style is magpie, i.e. 'snapper up of unconsider'd trifles'.

WG Sebald's work is the exemplar of this style. 'The rings of Saturn' is one of the most rich, beautiful and strange books I have ever read. And it survives its translation from German to English so well: a tribute to its translator and to Sebald's originality.

Janet Malcolm writes in a much more focused fashion, but I find it to be just as compelling.

Sorry, I'm talking about non-fiction here: so feel free to ignore.

mai wen said...

No, non-fiction is totally relevant to the conversation, thank you for bringing that perspective! I like that word, magpie, that sounds like a good category word to me. I don't write non-fiction, but do read it, and funny thing is that I never noticed different styles of writing in non-fiction as much as in fiction. I'll have to start paying attention!


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