Developing Your Writing Style
by Alana Cash
The number one way to develop writing confidence and style is to accept that rewriting is part of the process of developing not only a story, but a writing style. This is true because sometimes when you sit down to write and get those first few words on paper, you are just priming the pump – you keep going until things click and you feel you are in the story. When you get the story down, you can go back and edit out whatever isn’t strong.
When I was teaching, I read my students’ stories aloud in front of the group and then offered some suggestions for rewrites (this was the advanced class). As I read the stories, I got a feel for the student’s writing style through the cadence of the words. I could also tell when they had added phrases or descriptions that didn’t fit with the story, but they might have unconsciously picked up something from a bestselling novel or a writer that they admired. These phrases or descriptions might sound beautiful, but didn’t move their story along and detracted from it.
I always spoke about the strengths in any story before I made any sort of suggestions. I remember one student saying, “This is the second writing class I’ve taken and you’re telling me I’m still making mistakes.” First of all, editing a story doesn’t mean there are mistakes. It means there are ways to strengthen the story – the characters, the plot, the sensibility that the writer wants to get across. Second, mastering the art of writing is a not a two-class process.
When I originally wrote “Frying Your Burger” (the novella in HOW YOU LEAVE TEXAS) it was over 300 pages long. Over time, I cut characters and some extraneous little scenes. Those scenes might have been funny, but I wanted a distilled, lean story that carried Nicky [the protagonist] from denial of a family secret to divulging it. As she did that, her choices in men changed substantially. What sensibility I wanted to impart is that if we lie to ourselves, we’ll find ourselves involved with people who lie to us.
As the story became more refined, I became more satisfied with it and felt more confident to share it.
A exercise for developing a writing style is to share your work in a group. Writers generally work alone and it’s easy to deny lumpy places in a story where you’ve overwritten or places where you got off track. But when you hear your story read out loud (whether by yourself or someone else), you can’t deny the places where the rhythm is off or where the language suddenly became overly descriptive or too barren or you just went off on a tangent. A story needs balance and you’ll hear where your story tips. You can ask for suggestions, but don’t try to please every critic. Know the goal of your story – what you want your reader to know and feel from reading it – and pay attention to the suggestions that you believe will get you there.
All this sounds easy for me to say, but it takes time. Writing is a mastery process. I don’t know any “born writers.” You can’t buy a writing style any more than you can buy the ability to run a marathon. Writing talent develops over time. And developing a real talent and confidence in that talent takes passion.
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Genre – Women’s Fiction
Rating – PG13
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