Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Story or style?

What draws you in as a reader?

by Dietrich

Well, I’ve got to say style before story, but style won’t go very far on its own. I want to keep turning the pages, and for that there has to be a story, a sense of where it’s all going. In fact, along with story and style, all the elements need to be strong. We’ve recently talked about the importance of first lines and openings. Sure, it’s the hook, but a story needs interesting subplots, believable characters and settings, possibly some surprises and unexpected turnabouts for the magic to happen.
Style is the author’s voice, the personality coming through the narrative, and the tone or attitude in the telling. And it’s a writers style that truly sets them apart, and whether it’s good is subjective to the reader’s opinion. Something for everybody. And I’m a little fickle that way, sometimes I’m in the mood for the schemes of lowlifes, other times I might kick back with Proust.

I love the writing styles of James Lee Burke, Patti Smith, Elmore Leonard, J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee, Margaret Atwood, and many other greats. So, regardless of genre, modern or classic, a powerful writing style draws me in. A couple of examples:

“Hallucinations are bad enough. But after a while you learn to cope with things like seeing your dead grandmother crawling up your leg with a knife in her teeth. Most acid fanciers can handle this sort of thing. But nobody can handle that other trip—the possibility that any freak with $1.98 can walk into Circus Circus and suddenly appear in the sky over downtown Las Vegas twelve times the size of God, howling anything that comes into his mind. No, this is not a good town for psychedelic drugs. Reality itself is too twisted. 
– Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

“Baby Suggs didn't even raise her head. From her sickbed she heard them go but that wasn't the reason she lay still. It was a wonder to her that her grandsons had taken so long to realize that every house wasn't like the one on Bluestone Road. Suspended between the nastiness of life and the meanness of the dead, she couldn't get interested in leaving life or living it, let alone the fright of two creeping-off boys. Her past had been like her present--intolerable--and since she knew death was anything but forgetfulness, she used the little energy left her for pondering color.
"Bring a little lavender in, if you got any. Pink, if you don’t." 
– Toni Morrison, Beloved

George V. Higgins wrote entire stories in just dialogue, and as the saying goes character is who we are when no one’s looking. And he could show readers some amazing insights through his characters’ speech. And Cormac McCarthy’s signature style is a rolling rhythm that’s sometimes haunting, sometimes fiery, always confident and stripped down to the bare-bones of punctuation.

For me, reading the works of the greats is not only inspiring, it also influences and helps shape my own work. Plus, not much beats reading a good book.