By CP Bialois
This morning I thought about delving into a topic that’s been on my mind since, well, I started writing. I’m a huge fan of the classics like Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe, but I’m also a Stephen King and Tom Clancy lover to the core. What does that mean?
In short, I’m a fan of everything. Because of that, I also developed a semi-formal writing style based mostly on Third Person Omniscient. The problem with a semi-formal style and Third Omniscient is neither are popular at the moment and are often considered wrong.
It wasn’t until this past week that I was able to put my thoughts into words, and for that I have to thank Stephen King’s Firestarter. It exemplifies my style and points perfectly. When reading it, I noticed slight differences between it and his newer work. In short, his newer works are quicker reads.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for evolving our style through experience and learning. My style has settled into something I’m pleased to call my own, but how much of this evolution is due to enhancing our writing instead of catering to what we expect from our readers?
While Mr. King has tweaked his style, it still remains roughly (And this is just my own estimate) 90-95% what it used to be. While he’s switched to more of a Third Person Limited style, he’s also trimmed down on his description early on and gets right to the story.
It was a smooth transition for him, but how many of us take doing something similar to the extreme?
I see posts all the time about starting the story with a bang (Explosion, fight scene, war, etc), end every chapter with a hook or cliffhanger to keep the reader entertained, and don’t look to books twenty or more years old to learn due to the evolution of writing.
There’s nothing wrong with doing any of that, so long as it does the story justice. But (Here’s where I kick over a beehive and get into trouble), I’m a firm believer in not doing those just for the sake of doing it.
I like to let the readers get to know my characters before I start killing them off or explode on the scene like in a super hero movie. I look at using constant hooks and writing fast pace stories that last as long as a movie as gimmicks unless they are in the best interest of the story.
Here’s why I think the way I do.
Simply put, I’m a firm believer that if you’re telling a good story, then your reader will want to keep turning the pages to find out what happens. It’s up to us to give the reader a reason to be invested in the characters and care about what happens to them. Obviously, you don’t want to write something akin to stereo instructions, but keep the characters and their actions believable.
As far as pacing, I’m a fan of it when I write horror stories for the simple reason I look at them as being similar to an episode of the Twilight Zone or from the comic, Tales from the Crypt. I’m usually on pins and needles while writing horror, but if I’m not or I’m too comfortable, I’m sure my readers will be as well. It’s my personal feeling as far as my writing goes, but it works for me.
Now, I’m going to take the same thought process to my epic fantasy or other genre that has a scope beyond a couple of characters for the sake of doing so. If I do that, I may miss some great character building moments and cheat myself and my readers out of something special.
As far as my last point, I call BS on that thinking. Yes, writing has evolved, but those books also continue to sell because they are good stories told in an engaging way. In many ways, we have started talking down to our readers by explaining every intricate reasoning within our books instead of trusting our readers to think.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many writers out there that don’t do this, but there are just as many that fall into the trap of explaining everything, including me. I’m the type that loves to know as much as possible, so this is a line I find myself walking on a regular basis as to how much information is too much. It’s easy to second guess ourselves, but that’s why it’s important to have other eyes look through your work, but that’s another post for another day.
Of course, there are authors that do so purposely, as it’s their style and that’s great. Nothing is ever wrong with being true to yourself and doing what you feel is best for your writing.
Not everyone will agree, and that includes editors, agents, and publishers, but I don’t believe in sacrificing something, whether it’s popular or not, unless it benefits the story.
We each have our own voice that deserves to be heard. We each also have a responsibility to do everything we can to ensure we put out something we would want to read and is as well written as possible. That doesn’t always mean giving up and doing what others say, nor adopting an “It’s my way or no way” approach. Be open to thoughts and criticism, but also be willing to learn and grow to better your story and yourself.
At some point, we all face the choice between doing what’s considered popular at the moment or what we feel is quality. If we’re lucky, they’ll go hand in hand and the decision is academic.
In the end, it all comes down to my firmest, most basic belief as a writer: Do what feels right for your story. There are no absolutes when it comes to writing or art in general.
We all have our own thoughts and opinions and I’d love to hear yours.