what's your style?

I have had a lot of good help with my writing this summer from various quarters. It's been an odd experience, because sometimes I get conflicting advice and I like both! What's a girl to do then? A girl decides what fits her own style, that's what. But to decide that, a girl has to decide what a girl's style...is...

Ok, I'll quit using girl now. Besides, did I ever happen to mention in the past three years that I'm actually not a girl? I'm actually a hairy tattooed man with a paunch, bad acne scars, and a shotgun aimed at those imperialist democratic fuckers on my front porch that just fell down on two hound dogs?

Ok, I'm not. That's part of that 40% lie bit I employ to make my otherwise dull drab life seem interesting to the Internet.

Anyway a girl I have had to do a lot of thinking about my writing style. I think this is different than voice, that slippery term that agents pull out when they don't like your stuff but don't know why: Didn't connect with the voice. No, I've had to think about how I write, how I use the tools from my box and when.

I'm not Cormac McCarthy or whatever his name is. I'm not all show and no tell at the expense of decent characterization. (I mean, a boy and his father? Have we ever met two more flat characters? And oh boo hoo the father dies in the end. Never saw that one coming.) But a while ago--sneezecoughsixmonthsagocough--when people were saying "what's his motivation?" and "what's he thinking here??" I thought, whoa, I need internal narrative and I need it quick. And so I internalized my narrative so much it was like...well, I suck at similies. But it was like something someone who effectively utilizes the simile would say about something internalized a lot.

And it was, in a word, painful. Here's a bit that I wrote for Sean in those days when I thought internal narrative was the Answer:

He was equal to these two. He knew that. He was confident he could outsmart them and free whoever was tied inside the bundle. But the voice of experience also spoke of caution.

Bollocks to that, he thought. Despite temptation and abundant opportunity, he’d never been deliberately cruel, like kicking a bound, defenseless prisoner. And then he remembered shaking Le Chat, a helpless, dying man.

Frustration filled Sean: with a world that changed its rules at will, with a father who haunted the man he wished to be, with these two for chasing him without provocation, and especially with himself. He had tried for justice with Le Chat, but it had been reprehensible. Not only had he betrayed his wife’s memory, he’d crossed the skeletal line between hunter and assassin, between father and son.

Fucking yawwwwn. And it was brutal to write. For one, it felt just wrong. It stalls a major tension point in the story--Sean's first act of taking charge in a new world he will now call home and someday rule. And it's also things the reader already knows, or should know, if I've done my job. Sean should be setting himself up to take these guys on and by now it should be perfectly clear to the reader why. If not, then I've got bigger problems than a graph or two of internal narrative will solve.

But sometimes internal narrative just sings. It sits right with the character and the situation. For instance, I really like this one (different book, different character):

“You’re the one who always knows everyone’s names before you meet them,” Kaelin pointed out. “I mean, it sounds nuts, but you have to admit he’s got a point.”

“He’s lying, Kae.”

Kaelin stared at his brother. Aidan’s uncanny knack for knowing things he shouldn’t had always been a joke between them. But Kaelin knew his brother’s moods. Aidan would argue against the tides if he had his mind made up they didn’t exist. Time for a little back door maneuvering.

“You were right,” Kaelin said. “No matter how Nathanial dresses it up, Sentinel is after Mom. We have to stay on the inside to keep them from killing her.”

Aidan shrugged and nodded.

“I’ll see you downstairs,” Kaelin said, heading for the door. He hoped they could convince Nathanial they were serious about cooperating, though the idea of it rankled. But if he protested or fought back, it was Aidan who would pay.

“I would, though,” Aidan said. “I would take a beating for you, any day. You see a chance to get Mom out, you take it.”

Kaelin stopped, his back to his brother, his hand on the doorknob. “And you still say you can't read minds?”

“Knock it off. I know you. Besides, I was thinking the same thing.”

Kaelin didn’t point out how ludicrous Aidan sounded. Fighting with his brother wouldn’t help things. Nathanial sounded sincere enough, but how could they know it wasn’t all a lie? How could they know Nathanial wouldn’t just kill their mother once they found her?

Of course, Aidan could read minds. He’d know.

“Yeah,” Aidan said. “I was thinking that, too.”

I think it works here because 1) it's in bite-sized pieces, and 2) it accentuates the conflict between the characters and highlights Aidan's denial--shows him doing exactly what he says he can't do. In other words, internal narrative is not a stand-in for shoddy showing, it's enhancing the action and even causing more tension.

So, having read me a brain-full of Gaiman, who doesn't internalize his narrative much, and thunk it over well and good, I've decided I'll use internal narrative <> Gaiman and McCarthy. The real test came tonight at crit group, when I showed off some new work heavy on the showing and lighter on the internal narrative. And they really didn't complain that they didn't get motivation or wanted more of "what's he thinking?" In fact, I'd say I got a deeper level crit than usual, which I think is heading in the right direction.

No comments: