Finding My Writing Style: Clean

June 6, 2010 in On Writing, Study

One thing I have been trying to do during this course is to try and develop a particular writing style.  A style that’s distinctive and one that I feel comfortable with.  Perhaps it stems from my fear of being “discovered” as an untalented writer, but I’ve been trying to write in a clear and straightforward manner — not use any unnecessary big or “flowery” words or clutter the narrative with too many descriptions.  Get to the point.  No wasting time or mucking around, I guess.

Since adopting this approach, in two separate classes, two lecturers reviewing two different pieces of my writing have said that my narrative writing style is “clean”.  I don’t exactly know what that means.  Is “clean” just another word for “shit”?

Both narrative pieces have been short stories, so I’m not sure if this style will translate nicely to a longer piece, like say a novel.

Another bit of constructive feedback I received is that I still have a tendency to over-explain things.  Sometimes I worry that a reader won’t understand the point that I am trying to get through, so I end up spelling out the meaning for them, or add in an extra line of dialogue just to make sure it’s clear.  My lecturer tells me it’s about having more confidence in the intelligence of my reader, but I think it’s about having more confidence in my ability to get a point across.

The Importance of Location in Writing

March 24, 2010 in On Writing, Study

Last night’s narrative writing class was about the use of location in writing.

To be honest, it wasn’t something that I had given much thought to before.  When I write a story, the location is not really something I consider.  I think about the plot, and I think about the characters, and what they want to do and where they want to go.  Those things usually dictate the location where the events take place.

But what if you take a scene from a story and change the location?  How would that change things?  If you take a murder and place it in the back of a hospital as opposed to a dark alley?  Or if you take a road trip and put it through the desert rather than the jungle?  How does that change the dynamics, the tone, and the imagery?

Do you ever wonder why a particular story or event takes place in a certain location?  For instance, why do some writers always write about the outback, where it is open and barren, while some others like to write stories about confined spaces?

And how a character perceives a location or setting is always telling of that person’s mood.  If you get a person who just found out about their impending death to describe a setting, it would no doubt be completely different to the description of a person who just fell madly in love.  The way a setting is described can give plenty of clues as to what the character is feeling.

I’m usually horrible at describing the setting and location.  I never know how much to put in and what to leave to the imagination of the audience.  I always end up going with the cliches and hoping that I’ll be able to fix things up in rewrites.  I envy those authors who are able to pinpoint a few features of a setting that stand out, and just focus on those things.  While it might not give you a full picture, it does give you enough to get a feel of what the place is like and what the character is seeing or feeling.

I found it all to be quite fascinating, and can’t wait to apply more thought to it in my own writings.

[PS: Unfortunately, we had the insufferable lethal duo in class last night.  Up to that point, the two dudes had, by some stroke of fortune, never been in the same class.  One guy was always away for whatever reason.  Last night, the two of them sat together for the first time, and the results were brutal.  One of them loved to comment on everything, and felt the urge to comment on everything we read or what anyone says.  The problem is, the comments are usually always negative, and as we found out last night, often wrong.  Various comments he made were shot down by other classmates as plainly incorrect (eg the meaning or use of a particular word or phrase), but he somehow managed to hold on to those erroneous views to the death.  The other guy spoke less, but he was a waffler that loved to talk about the past and his many old stories, even if they had nothing to do with the discussion.  Once he starts on something you might as well take a nap.  The two of them worked like a well-oiled machine, not jumping over each other, but like the perfect wrestling tag team.  It was one after the other, a negative comment followed by an old-time story, and vice versa.  A seamless performance.]

Voice, Point of View and Workshopping

March 12, 2010 in On Writing, Study

What the heck is “voice” in writing?

That’s what we’ve been discussing in my narrative class, even though we did traverse the subject in screenwriting and theory as well.  And after hours of discussion and studying texts, I don’t think the answer is any clearer.  Is it point of view?  Style?  Tone?  Simply the way a story is told?  All of the above?

The main reason the discussions went nowhere is because there was this old dude in class that would not shut up with the comments.  It was a night class, so it should have been past his bed time, but this guy just went on and on.  He just had to make a comment about everything.  Talking over the tutor, interrupting others in the class.  I wouldn’t have minded so much had these been constructive comments.  But no, it was just stupid, random, pointless stuff.  He told at least three ‘stories’ from over 20 years ago that had no connection to whatever we were doing.  It was a 70-year-old (okay, he was probably only 60), unstoppable force of nature.

That said, there was a bit of fun.  We discussed the readings for the week, including The Resurrectionist by James Bradley (an Australian novel about the apprentice of an anatomist in the 1800s), Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney, and The Turning (a collection of interlinked short stories) by Tim Winton.

Bright Lights, Big City was interesting because it was told from a rare second person perspective.  Some people in the class loved it (especially the old dude), but others found it a little tedious reading “you you you” all the time.

Oh, and we also had to read out our shit in class and give constructive feedback.  They call it “workshopping”.  It was terrifying, even though only “positive” comments were allowed (with a bit of room for “development” suggestions).  I suppose it’s necessary and useful to get used to people reading your stuff and commenting on it if you ever want to get published.  Still, being left alone is what I prefer.

Anyway, back to voice.  The true definition is actually very simple.  According to John Farnham, the voice is YOU.  You just have to try and understand it.

You’re the voice, try and understand it
Make a noise and make it clear
(Oh Oh Oh Ohooooh)
(Oh Oh Oh Oh Ohooooh)