Are Writers Too Close To Their Stories?

Hi everyone!

Back in March, I wrote an article about software that analyzes a passage and tells you whose writing style it is similar to.  One of the things I was surprised to learn was that my writing style has changed over time.  More than that, I’ve even come to realize that my writing style changes depending on what I am writing.

I’m not just talking about the difference between fantasy and sci fi, but within a single novel.  The first Sword of Dragons novel (Rise of the Forgotten), I initially got Arthur Conan Doyle, and later on, JK Rowling.  I’ve put in a few other passages from Rise of the Forgotten (all edited versions) and got Dan Brown for an action sequence, and then JK Rowling for another random section.

However, back in March, I was surprised when passages from Burning Skies and the unfinished book 3 came out as Ursula K. Le Guin, the writer of the Earthsea series.  I’d never read any of her work, so wasn’t sure what to make of it.  So I went out and bought the first Earthsea novel, The Wizard of Earthsea.  About a week ago, I finally started reading it.

…and I don’t see it.  I don’t see any similarity to her writing style.  I was shocked by that.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I don’t like her writing style, I actually rather enjoy it and I’m getting through the first book very quickly.  In fact someone said she’s a master of character development, so the comparison is flattering.  But I don’t see the similarity to my style.

Or at least, I didn’t think so at first…

Am I Just Too Close To My Own Writing To See It?

I mentioned this to my friend Liza the other day over IM.  She kinda paused for a bit, and then replied that she actually could see the similarity, and started going into details about how.  One of the thing she said is that we both write very matter-of-fact in many instances.

I see that in Earthsea, but I wasn’t seeing that in my own writing.  And I started wondering…is that just because I’m too close to my own writing?  I know that’s why they say a writer should always get an outside editor (hard to do when you can’t afford one…)

It’s neither a good thing or a bad thing, though, it’s just my style.  Some people will like it, some won’t.  I started wondering if I should find a way to adjust my writing and make it less ‘matter-of-fact’ but then I realized that it works for me.  Not to say my writing style is perfect – I will never stop trying to make myself better.

But that’s an important thing to remember.  Find your voice.  It may be like someone else’s, but that’s okay as long as it is your voice and it isn’t a struggle to write in that style.

So Do Outside Opinions Matter Or Not?

This becomes a rather difficult question to answer.  Not everyone likes my writing style.  And I truly do think that I’ll always have room for improvement.  But who would be the best judge of my style and what direction I should go to improve it?

Honestly that’s something I struggled with in the writer’s critique groups.  There were writers from all genres there, and some of the other writers there were criticizing aspects that were staples to fantasy.  As much as I like to turn some tropes on their heads, if you do that too much, you can actually drive readers of your genre away.  Finding that balance is difficult.

I find that writers often try to impose the rules of their genre onto others when they get into a critique group.  Just ask any die-hard literary fiction writers.  (And now I’m having flashbacks to my college days…)

So does that mean that only writers from your story’s genre can be good judges?  Actually…not necessarily.  Because even within a genre, writers have their own styles, and readers can have preferences to styles.

So the question is…who is the authority?  Is there an authority?  I honestly don’t know.  Even within a single genre, ‘famous’ writers can have extremely different styles, and some of those famous writers break every rule that’s out there.

I don’t have an answer to that question.  At all.

So my only advice: go with your gut.  Trust the opinions of your target audience and don’t stop trying to improve your writing.  In fact, pay close attention to what your target audience says.  That may be the best thing you can do for yourself and your writing.

What do you think?

Thanks for reading!
-Jon Wasik

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