Tag Archives: writing style

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

Advertisements

Who Do You Write Like?

Hi everyone!

Who are some of your favorite writers?  Can you point to why they are your favorite?  There’s probably a lot of reasons, anywhere from the stories they write, the characters they create, and so on.

One thing to consider, however, is how they tell their stories.  I love JK Rowling’s writing style, especially watching it evolve over the course of the Harry Potter novels.  I also really enjoyed Michael Stackpole’s writing style.

I know I’ve touched on this more than once in the past, and every writer has a distinct voice of their own…

…Right?

I mean, that’s what I’ve always thought: we all have our own writing styles that are unique to us.  However, according to an interesting website that analyzes text to compare it to ‘famous’ writers…my writing style seems to change over time.

My fiancee first mentioned it, that she once found a website that compared her writing to another author’s.  We searched and found it, and started putting excerpts from our stories into it…and were a bit surprised by the results.

The “King” of Horror

Her results were relatively consistent, and for someone who has never read Stephen King, according to https://iwl.me, she writes an awful lot like him.  Very consistently.

Myself, however…

I started by putting in the first page of chapter 1 into the tool, and was pleasantly surprised when I apparently write like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  The same man who wrote Sherlock Holmes.  That was kind of cool to see!

However, I had the idea to see how much my writing changed after my 4-year writer’s block that was in the middle of the Sword of Dragons, so I took an excerpt from chapter 31 and put it in.

…and according to the website, my style matched that of JK Rowling’s.  This didn’t surprise me a whole lot, because during my writer’s block, I had read all of Harry Potter.  And all of my chapters from book 1 after the writer’s block period came out as JK Rowling.

That pleased me, because I really really liked her writing.

Then I began to wonder, how different was my writing style for Chronicles of the Sentinels?  I intentionally tried to write it differently.  So I put in the first page of chapter 2, and was not surprised to find I wrote that chapter, and action sequence with military-type action, like Dan Brown.

…However, a later chapter came out to say that I wrote like Stephen King.  That caught me a bit off guard.

So again, wondering if things were different in later books, I started putting in excerpts for Burning Skies.  And according to the website, I write like Ursula K. Le Guin, the same author who wrote Earthsea.  I’ve never read any of Le Guin’s work, so this also surprised me.

While some other chapters had other authors’ names attached, mostly book 2 was written like this author.  And when I put in excerpts from my work in progress for book 3, it again is coming out as being like Le Guin’s style.

This got me to thinking something…has my writing style matured?  Have I found my voice?  At least, for high fantasy?  Where as my style changed in the first novel, and my style changed throughout Chronicles, my latest two novels are giving me Le Guin as the result.

Is this good?  I think I might have to pick up Earthsea to see if I can pick up on the similarities, and see if I like her novels.

But if this is an indication that my writing style has matured, that’s kind of amazing…because it took 20 years to find my voice!  I wonder if that’s normal for a writer, or not.

I also can’t help but wonder…I’ve always thought it is important to try to improve my writing all the time.  Will this mean that, over time, my style will change and become comparable to someone else’s?

I guess time will tell :)

Thanks for reading!  Let me know if there’s a particular writing style you like.  Or if you’re a writer, check out https://iwl.me and comment below who’s writing style yours is similar to!

-Jon Wasik

Why I Think Sci-Fi/Fantasy Writers Should Read Star Wars

Hey everyone!

So one of the things I’ve been trying to make more time for lately is reading.  Yes, the guy who loves books, loves to read, and writes as often as he can, has been a total slacker about reading.

No kidding, I have a gigantic backlog of books I’ve bought and haven’t read, probably around 40 or so.  And some of those are books that have been piling up since my college days.

Image Source - http://www.joblo.com
Image Source – http://www.joblo.com

Well ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been reading Star Wars novels.  The Expanded Universe, as it is called, is incredibly huge and robust, with hundreds of novels written by dozens of authors!

And that is why I think every Sci-Fi/Fantasy writer should read novels from the Star Wars Expanded Universe.  These are stories all written in the same universe, with the same ‘rules’ to how the universe works, and the same characters…but each book or series of books by each author is so wonderfully unique!

Favorites and Least Favorites

heir-to-the-empire-legendsOne of my favorites of the EU is perhaps the most well-known trilogy, the Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zhan.  Not only does the story capture the spirit of Star Wars, but it is very well written, in my opinion.

Another of my favorites is the X-Wing series by Michael A. Stackpole.  This in particular is because I really enjoy his writing style, very character-driven, and he does an incredible job of describing action/battle scenes.  Just enough detail to give a vivid picture of what’s going on, but not so much that it slows down the story or the action.

On the other hand, my least favorite trilogy so far is easily the Black Fleet Crisis.  In fact book 1 of this series is what originally killed my interest in continuing the Star Wars EU almost a decade ago.  Grudgingly, I forced myself to finish it this year, and got myself back into the series again.  Or so I’d hoped.

Now I’m on the last book of the Corellian Trilogy, and finding that I also am not a huge fan of this trilogy, though I like it considerably better than the Black Fleet Crisis.

Before anyone cries fowl on me, I am not saying they are poorly written books, or that the authors are rubbish.  If that was the case, they wouldn’t have been asked to write these stories.  Rather they just aren’t my taste.  Why?  Well, that leads me to why I think Sci-Fi/Fantasy writers should read the EU.

Take it or Leave it

Each author brings something different to the table.  And for an author, that sort of exposure to varying writing styles is incredibly invaluable.

Because developing our writing ‘voice’ is perhaps the most important thing an author can do.  Now that’s just my opinion, but as a reader, it is the author’s writing style, the way they tell the story, their ‘voice’ that either makes or breaks it for me.

i-jediSome authors, like Stackpole, write characters and events in the right amount of detail.  He describes the universe just enough that I can see it, filling in what he doesn’t describe with my imagination, and so making it a part of me.

Others, like Roger Allen (Corellian Trilogy) spend waaaay too much time describing the environment or, more often than not, the technology, how it works, why, even though 90% of what he describes is not essential to the story.  And it frustrates me.

But that is me.  For some, that is the whole point of sci-fi – the technology.

And so reading this multitude of authors, I can figure out what I like, and what I don’t like, and decide which parts to integrate into my writing.  It also helps me identify what I consider to be flaws in my own writing style, or perhaps it is better to say aspects of my style I want to change.  Aspects I don’t always catch when reading my own stories, but which I catch when I see it in other writers’ stories.

Image Source - starwars.com
Image Source – starwars.com

What’s Your Story?

So what about all of you?  Star Wars or not, what are some of your favorite novels or authors? (If you say that it’s my book, well flattery will get you everywhere ;) )  What are some of your least favorite?  Why?  What kind of story telling do you enjoy the most or fiercely hate?  I really would love to hear from all of you :D

Thanks for reading!
-Jon Wasik