Forging The Letters

Originally posted November 15, 2009

Back in my early days in Chicago, I hit every writer's panel and workshop I could find. (I still do; you can never know enough.) One of these panels put us through an exercise to define our writing style. The moderator told us to think carefully about the sort of work we especially enjoyed - the books and authors we particularly like - and to write down a dozen or more words describing what specific things we liked about them. This had to do with plot, characters, style, word usage, imagery, etc.

From those words, we then extracted a statement describing our preferred writing style. What I came up with was:

"Humanistic, realistic stories of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances."

In other words, I like stories about ordinary folks (not the aristocratic super heroes who plague the genre these days) who find themselves in a bad situation, and have to fight their way out by wit and perseverance. Moreover, I am not strong on the overblown 'gosh-wowie' reliance on giant space ships and whiz-bang technology. My focus is far more on the people and how their situation affects them. If it's too easy to whip out a death ray, or tootle over to the next star system to find the magic solution that just happens to be sitting on a shelf at the local library, then where's the drama?

"Humanistic, realistic stories of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances."

I have followed this principle ever since, and I think it has done much to help me create stories with real impact and interest. I like them, anyway.

Defining your writing style and interests is an important first step to deciding how to write what you write. There are so many subtile variations on content and style out there that it is all too easy to wander off into a blind alley. Writing is difficult enough without having to constantly battle against an ill-fitting style. This doesn't have to do with what you write: I've done humor, drama, thrillers, horror, steam punk, and fantasy - all within my stylistic framework as given above. What matters is that when I sit down at the ol' keyboard, I know what the heck I'm doing, and I'm comfortable with it. So do this little exercise for yourself: it will help you with the all-important step of deciding just what sort of writer you are.

Til next, keep on scribbling! :-}>

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