Friday, January 11, 2013

My new literary style.

My new literary style, and the resulting format, evolved over some time. It eliminates dialogue tags, adverbs, and things like semi-colons. Scattered through this blog are bits of short fiction. Some of them are in the older style.

“Run!” John shouted suddenly.

“Why?” she asked. “What’s up?”

She looked wildly around but could see nothing.

That’s the older style, and we can still find plenty of it out there. There are brand-new books being released by highly-regarded authors using this style every day. The books come from respectable mass-market publishers.

The new style, which I did not invent, looks more like this:

“Run!” John grabbed her arm.

“Why? What’s up?” Mary looked wildly around, but saw nothing.

Basically it just saves a lot of words. I never have to use ‘he said, she said’ again. Any number of other authors advise against adverbs, like ‘suddenly,’ especially in dialogue tags. I still use adverbs in the exposition. I used to use too many semi-colons; not that I haven’t found semi-colons in the work of mainstream authors living and dead. I’m not contradicting anybody, but I have a certain goal in mind.

I don’t care if I’m better than a bunch of not very good authors. I would prefer not to be ‘just as good’ as a whole bunch of mediocre or unremarkable authors. I want my work to stand up in comparison to the very best authors, no matter what style they may write in. It has nothing to do with overall sales numbers, but the work itself. This must hold true not just at the sentence and paragraph level, where I’m actually pretty good, not just the ability to write a good chapter that looks all right on its own, but the overall story. Have I put in enough to link it all together into one coherent whole?

This is where I stand right now—I’m just on the brink of a higher level and I don’t really know the answers to certain things. That’s one reason why I don’t rush the thing so much these days. It has to be right above all else. Let’s assume a person could conceivably write in Impressionistic style, or Surrealist style, or ‘write like Michelangelo.’ It still has to be complete—saying you’re a Fauvist writer isn’t going to get you too far if there are holes in the plot, flaws or contradictions in the logic, and at the end of the story the reader just doesn’t get it. Assuming they even got that far.

I’m reading a book now, and it’s not my favourite genre. It’s not particularly well written. Yet I can’t help thinking that the average reader wouldn’t care anyway. I haven’t abandoned the thing yet. I’m still reading it. But most readers simply wouldn’t notice the style or the writing. In that sense, the author did succeed in that the writing would be invisible to the majority of the readers. But I’m not there as a fan, I’m a writer with an analytical eye.

I want my work to adhere to the highest international literary standards. The work stands a better chance of meeting the test of time. It can be read and understood by the greatest number of people. It still makes sense fifty or a hundred years later. It's not an instant antique.

The considerations, I think, are artistic. The notion that writers should ‘just learn to tell a story’ and ignore style is ludicrous. You must have a basic level of competence. I don’t care how many major authors couldn’t spell. Some of them couldn’t even write—they hired ghost writers. I don’t have that luxury. Neither do I have that level of vanity. If I couldn't do it, then it's just a lie and we're all better off if I quit.


In the fine arts there are three types or levels of content. There is the actual content of the picture—whether it’s a still life of flowers, or a naked lady, or a guy on a horse with a big sword. Then there is the meaning of a picture. The artist had the intention of conveying some theme or message. The third level of content is what it meant to the viewer—how it made them feel or what they thought upon viewing the work.

The same is true for literature. In terms of editing for content, I do the very best I can in telling a good story. Content is not just what I put into it, but what the reader gets out of it. What that means is that style really doesn’t matter as long as it remains unobtrusive and gets the story across.

With the new style, the challenge the author faces is attribution. Who said what?

“This is conveyed by the format as much as anything else.” John looked up at the reader. “If you don’t get it, you’re not paying attention.”

I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

Here’s something you will never find in a Shalako book—although you might still see it in ‘mainstream’ books put out by major publishers even today.

“Run!” John grabbed Jane’s arm. Together they took off running. Jane’s shoe came off. Bill and what he said yesterday still dominated her thoughts. Dale wasn't there that day, as he'd called in sick. Larry’s breathing was harsh and loud in his chest. Ed was so frightened he couldn’t speak. Virginia, unfortunately, for reasons unknown, wasn’t there to share the terror of her creation run amok. “That thing’s fast!”

There is a reason for everything I do. Sometimes it’s a reaction to something I saw that I didn’t like. The above (fictitious) example was done for one reason and one reason only. The designer of the book preferred big, square blocks of text. It saves paper, and this used to be, (and might still be,) a mass-market industry. Saving one page of paper per book did in fact add up to significant cost savings over a large print run. It’s just that simple. (Funny thing is, I've probably achieved the same thing.)

But we are no longer bound by these considerations.

We are within our rights as writers to experiment with something new, even if it steps on the toes of the old, the shopworn, the outmoded, or the obsolete.

Photo: Franz Marc, 'Deer in the Woods.' A coherent whole.

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