1. GoldenFeather
    Offline

    GoldenFeather Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 10, 2012
    Messages:
    219
    Likes Received:
    79

    At what point does "different" writing style turn into bad writing?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by GoldenFeather, Jun 17, 2014.

    I have a unique style, which is to say that my writing is always grammatically correct but the things I say aren't usually phrased the way that's common. For instance, instead of "boil the kettle" I write "set the kettle to boil". Or instead of "to get rid of the irritation" I write, "to rid of the irritation".

    Editors all the time point this out to me, but honestly this is just my style. My question is, at what point does a style simply become incorrect syntax or structure? I imagine readers would be turned off by this as it could be disruptive to the flow of the text.
     
  2. TWErvin2
    Offline

    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2006
    Messages:
    2,528
    Likes Received:
    561
    Location:
    Ohio, USA
    If you're writing just for your own enjoyment, it doesn't matter.

    If you're writing with the hopes of others reading and enjoying a work, the more disruptive your writing style/syntax/structure interfere with that, the fewer readers that will read your work. Maybe there's a niche of readers that will just love it, or maybe it'll grow on readers that have an interest. Or maybe readers will turn away and read something else they're more apt to enjoy.


    When the writing interferes or the style interjects itself into the storyline, disrupting the moment or experience or flow of the story or readers, then it becomes a concern.

    Of hand, I would say that those who favor 'literary' works as opposed to 'genre' works may be more of your target audience, if style and alternate use of words and wording that change the flow of a story is the focus or intent.
     
    jannert likes this.
  3. shadowwalker
    Offline

    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2011
    Messages:
    3,299
    Likes Received:
    851
    Are you getting your meaning across clearly?

    Your first example - the "boil the kettle" makes sense only if one is trying to sterilize or clean the kettle. What you would write ("set the kettle to boil") makes perfect sense and is used often in my neck of the woods. In your second example, what you would write ("to rid of the irritation") is awkward, almost incomplete to me - it's like "rid who/what of the irritation"?

    Phrasing doesn't have to be dull or predictable - but it does need to be clear. Look at it as a pleasant curve in the road versus a speed bump.
     
  4. peachalulu
    Offline

    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    May 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,829
    Likes Received:
    2,382
    Location:
    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    When it doesn't 'work'. Sounds kinda simple but it is in a way. If a good number of people are telling you it doesn't work than you should review what you're doing. Maybe it doesn't. Maybe the meaning is muddled. Maybe it doesn't work for the scene you're trying to construct - not that that style doesn't work but doesn't work for a particular scene.

    Here's a snippet from Kathe Koja's novel Skin -
    It's quirky, feels broken, but it works and most important it works for the story.
    I think the main thing about style is letting it work for what you're writing, not to let it work against it. Choose a style that fits story, the character's voice and don't leave out reader expectations. It's no use trying to write like Chuck Palahniuk if you're writing Danielle Steel stories. It only works if you're the next Francesca Lia Block.
     
  5. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,683
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    As a general rule, I'd say "different" writing becomes "bad" writing at the point you do it only to be different.
     
    TDFuhringer, xanadu, jazzabel and 3 others like this.
  6. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,880
    Likes Received:
    10,062
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    The following is a quote from: Dhalgren (1975) by Samuel R. Delany, Published by Bantam Books, Page 01.

    All you know I know: careening astronauts and bank clerks glancing at the clock before lunch; actresses cowling at light-ringed mirrors and freight elevator operators grinding a thumbful of grease on a steel handle; student riots; know that dark women in bodegas shook their heads last week because in six months prices have risen outlandishly; how coffee tastes after you've held it in your mouth, cold, a whole minute.

    A whole minute he squatted, pebbles clutched with his left foot (the bare one), listening to his breath sound tumble down the ledges.

    Beyond a leafy arras, reflected moonlight flittered.

    He rubbed his palms against denim. Where he was, was still. Somewhere else, wind whined.


    ----------------------​
    Notice the unmistakably unusual syntax choices Delany makes. They are grammatically correct, though arguable as to being idiomatic.

    ...how coffee tastes after you've held it in your mouth, cold, a whole minute.

    See how cold is an interruption of syntax. It would almost seem to be a dangling modifier, as if it is meant to modify the verb hold and not the noun coffee.

    ...A whole minute he squatted, pebbles clutched with his left foot (the bare one), listening to his breath sound tumble down the ledges.

    The flipped syntax of the first clause and the strange use of breath sound as a noun phrase where anyone else would have written sounds of his breath or something to that effect.

    ...Where he was, was still. Somewhere else, wind whined.

    Who speaks this way? No one. Yet notice how beautiful is the economy of word in the description.
    ----------------------​
    It has to work. Delany is a tough read because he makes these kinds of unusual choices from page one to page done, but once you grok his reasoning, you know that nothing is trite or quaint or precious. It's all very purposeful and crafted like Michelangelo with a chisel and hammer.
     
  7. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,792
    Likes Received:
    7,312
    Location:
    Scotland
    The more idiosyncratic your writing style is, the more likely it is that the majority of people will turn away from it. If this doesn't bother you, then go ahead. There are a lot of writers out there whose works are respected, but whose books have never been an easy read. A classic example is James Joyce. Or Salman Rushdie.

    One writer whose idiosyncracies MADE her reputation—which is respected and much deserved—is E Annie Proulx. At first you go ...what? And then you can't put her down. Her style is so lively it's sometimes tiring to read, but never boring, never dull, and always filled with images and outlooks that are totally unique. If I could write like that and still make sense, I'd die happy.

    If, on the other hand, your 'style' appears laboured and 'crafted', and is annoying to the readers you are aiming at ...well, I'd re-think it a bit. Is it style over substance that you really want to be remembered for?

    My own particular preference is to disappear, and make the reader forget all about me. I'll always sacrifice style for story. However, I realise that's not what many other authors strive for. So good luck whichever way you go.

    Just make sure you're developing 'style' for the right reasons. You want to show somebody something they've never seen before, or present an idea in a way they've never thought of before. Or use rhythm and the sounds of words so they ring like poetry inside your prose piece.

    If, however, you're just thinking ...oooh how clever I am ...then I'd be wary.
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2014
    TDFuhringer, xanadu, TWErvin2 and 4 others like this.
  8. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,351
    Likes Received:
    2,891
    Location:
    Boston
    After a certain point, it's a matter of opinion. It also depends on the reader's experience with different literary traditions. Take, for example, this passage from Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian:
    He certainly has an odd way of writing, doesn't he? Sometimes you have to read his passages multiple times just to understand what's happening. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. Literature is supposed to be challenging. However, at the end of the day, what he writes is understandable, and that's the important thing.
     
  9. GoldenFeather
    Offline

    GoldenFeather Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 10, 2012
    Messages:
    219
    Likes Received:
    79
    I don't think his writing is odd at all. On the contrary I find this to have so much more meaning and description than if it were written in a more simple, generic way. It has quality I feel.
     
    thirdwind likes this.
  10. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,351
    Likes Received:
    2,891
    Location:
    Boston
    I'm glad you like it. I've met some people before who don't like his writing style.
     
    GoldenFeather likes this.
  11. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,880
    Likes Received:
    10,062
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    I actually don't find his style to be unusual. He's long-winded and would happily be embraced in any circle of Spanish writers (our literature is replete with three-quarter-page-long sentences) but I wouldn't exactly call his syntax or structural choices out of the idiomatically expected. Hm. I don't say this to invalidate your example, but only to illuminate that perhaps a goodly part of the answer to the OP's question does lie in one's preference, exposure, and perhaps one's own idiolect and how far the writer strays from that.
     
    GoldenFeather likes this.
  12. jazzabel
    Offline

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2012
    Messages:
    4,273
    Likes Received:
    1,666
    I believe writing is bad or rather, it fails it's core purpose (which is to effectively communicate your ideas to the reader) when it fails to engage. How many people it manages to engage is another matter. Perhaps your reading will have a following, maybe it won't be a bestseller scale following, but it will speak to some people. If that's your purpose of maintaining your style, then it won't be a failure. If your purpose is to become a bestselling writer and make a living out of it, and it fails to engage a sufficient number of readers to make it work, then you might consider it a failure. As with most things in life, this is all relative. :)
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2014
    Andrae Smith and peachalulu like this.
  13. GoldenFeather
    Offline

    GoldenFeather Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 10, 2012
    Messages:
    219
    Likes Received:
    79
    But then we have to consider: which style of writing sells a lot? And does it sell because it's a good writing style? Or because the author simply does it well?

    If it's the style, can we imitate it? Or is it a quality that a writer must already possess in order to HAVE a 'sellable' or 'particular' style?
     
  14. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,683
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    I would argue that no single style of writing "sells a lot", any more than any particular story line sells a lot. Reader preference is an erratically moving target. That's why the writing style has to be suited to a purpose other than just its own existence.
     
    jannert, GoldenFeather and jazzabel like this.
  15. jazzabel
    Offline

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2012
    Messages:
    4,273
    Likes Received:
    1,666
    Well, worrying about selling becomes relevant only if you want to be a bestselling author. Not all writers have that as a goal, and even some of those become bestsellers. So it's just one of those unpredictable things, I suppose.

    For unique styles that definitely have a chance, look at Haruki Murakami. The man is a global superstar, and also the author of some of the best written literary fiction today. I believe the crucial elements to becoming successful writer is ability to tell the story in an engaging manner, and an innate sense for drama. Some people naturally have these, others do not. I think style and everything else is secondary.
     
    GoldenFeather likes this.
  16. GoldenFeather
    Offline

    GoldenFeather Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 10, 2012
    Messages:
    219
    Likes Received:
    79
    ^ Agreed.
     
  17. xanadu
    Offline

    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2008
    Messages:
    552
    Likes Received:
    407
    Location:
    Cave of Ice
    Like many above me, I agree that style for the sake of style and being different for the sake of being different tends to yield bad results. That's because it doesn't read naturally--it reads like a pretentious "artist" trying to show of his or her "genius."

    The idea is to draw the reader in, however you can. We all have our preferences, our niches, our target audiences, and hopefully we have an idea of how best to engage with that particular group. The hard work is in pulling it off. But most importantly I think it needs to feel natural. Flashy style without substance can feel forced, leading to the above impressions. Write honestly, write in a way that will communicate to your readers whatever it is you want to get to them, and I think you're probably off to a good start.
     
  18. Andrae Smith
    Offline

    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2012
    Messages:
    2,506
    Likes Received:
    1,404
    Location:
    Wandering
    I may be alone in this, but I personally don't think this works at all. It may be that it's out of context, it may be that I'm not used to it, but it comes across to me as choppy. I like each little section, and the images, but I find no cohesion. Maybe it's the section you chose...

    That's not to invalidate your example by any means. My point in saying that is to add credence to @thirdwind's post. I think that a lot of has to do with preference and exposure. However, even more than that I think it depends heavily on clarity and cohesion. I don't mind a challenge and having to read something more than once to fully grasp it, but if i can't understand the punctuation choices--or rather the structural choices that inhibit my ability to interpret it from the punctuation, I just can't get into it.

    The example above doesn't read like anything more than a collection of interesting image to me, stills that do not come together to make any whole or translate any unified meaning. When it comes to style in general. If clarity is sacrificed, then one must rethink, or at least take heavy consideration of, what they've written to ensure that there is cohesion within the piece as a whole. If the idea behind the words doesn't translate, it is no good for me.

    I don't mean to seem impatient or stuck up, but I'm of the school of thought that one can be creative within certain bounds. I believe one should always focus on being clear first and then creating the voice and style they want. That way they can have more certainty that the message is there. No one else has to subscribe to that though.

    Style is a great way to convey to readers how authors perceive things and process information, but I feel that the language, in general, should take a back seat to (1) the content, what's being said, what's actually going and (2) the intent, what the author was trying to do or say, the meaning. I like the idea of the language becoming transparent unless th way something is written contributes to how we, the readers, should consider/think about what's being presented.
     
  19. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,880
    Likes Received:
    10,062
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    Where does this quote come from, Andrae? I'm looking for it in the thread, but... :confuzled:
     
  20. Andrae Smith
    Offline

    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2012
    Messages:
    2,506
    Likes Received:
    1,404
    Location:
    Wandering
    It was in @peachalulu's post early in the thread. Sorry :oops:
     
    Wreybies likes this.
  21. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,880
    Likes Received:
    10,062
    Location:
    Puerto Rico

    Never mind. I see it now. My bad. :-D Sorry, mild oldness encroaching.
     
    minstrel and Andrae Smith like this.
  22. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    "Different" becomes "bad" when you are trying to use it to make your writing stand out. Gimmicks never work over solid writing.

    When "different" evolves naturally from solid writing as a means of expressing yourself even better, it may be a good choice. It is always risky.
     
  23. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,351
    Likes Received:
    2,891
    Location:
    Boston
    Like you, I don't like the passage that much, but this may be one of those cases where it works beautifully within context.

    There are other ways to look at that passage, and we should be aware of those. For example, what does that passage say about the narrator? What can we learn about him/her that we couldn't have otherwise? Sometimes it's important (and necessary) not to focus on the writer's style too much.
     
  24. Andrae Smith
    Offline

    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2012
    Messages:
    2,506
    Likes Received:
    1,404
    Location:
    Wandering
    No worries, Pops. ;) jk

    No, you're right. I bet the context could illuminate what we're meant to take away from it. When it comes to style, I try not to judge other writers' work in that area because there are many purposes for which one can use different elements of style. I don't always consider style "bad," but more or less effective for me based on how much I can take away from it given the context. If there is cohesion so that something comes through, then I like it, generally--or rather, I accept it. :p
     
  25. peachalulu
    Offline

    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    May 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,829
    Likes Received:
    2,382
    Location:
    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    Believe or not that quote is from the opening of her novel.
    Here's the following paragraph -
    She takes some getting used to. You either love her style or hate it or don't get it. Personally, I love it - I think she's ten times the author that King is. Not to knock King cause I loved his novel The Stand, I just think he's pretty pedestrian ( but his characters, I have to admit, that's what he excels in. ) I think Koja's jarring style works for the story because it's psychological horror, and the mc works with metal. The sentences in a way seem to be as sharp and clanging as her sculptures. It would be interesting to read her work outside of horror to see if she keeps up the jarring prose.
     
    aikoaiko, Poziga, jazzabel and 2 others like this.

Share This Page