Writing Without Style

Style manuals are all well and good, and in fact, highly desirable for newspapers. The average reading level of newspaper readers is the sixth grade. Over the years it became imperative that newspaper writing be simple, consistent, and use basic punctuation, even when that violated some elementary rules. The end result has been that borderline idiots may now understand today's papers.

I feel that these manuals should not be taken as carved in stone for fiction writers. Imagine, if you will, someone dictating to Picasso, Dali, or the French impressionists which colors of paint they may use, which strokes, which perspective, etc. Unthinkable, yet there are many people who insist that fiction writers must abide by the (sometimes) arbitrary grammar and style rules in the popular style manuals.

There are certain rudimentary dictates we must all follow, otherwise our writing would be chaotic. However, fiction writers should, more than any other writers, be allowed enough freedom of expression to create a style that is special to them. In other words, a style that is peculiar (in the correct meaning of that word.) In the editing process of my book, TALES FROM THE WRECKTORY, I had an incident with the editor (He won, I lost.) over the use of the word, "tenebraephobic." (Tenebrae is the service used during Christian Holy Week, and the Latin word, "tenebrae" means shadows, hence darkness.) I wanted to use it to convey a particular kind of fear of the dark. Now, there is more than one word for this condition: nyctophobia and lygophobia, to name two. The individual I was writing about was afraid to be alone in an old, multistory, rambling house in the dead of night. I ask you, which word conveys the impression I wanted to create: one of the two clinical names I mention, or the one which speaks of fear of shadows?

The editor objected to my "tenebraephobic" because he said there was no such word, that I had made it up, and, of course, he was right. There wasn't and I had. Damn it all, if a fiction writer is not allowed to coin a word, who is? Political speech writers? Computer nerds? Or, as we see happen every day, the intelligentsia who, through ignorance or sloppiness, take a perfectly good word or phrase, misuse it, and give it a whole new meaning. Others follow the bad example and it suddenly jumps up the ranks in today's parlance. "Impact" is a perfect example of that.

The same editor then pointed out that most people would not know the meaning of the word, "tenebrae." My answer to that was: "Then, let them look it up. If they want simple words that won't strain their poor brains, they should stick to newspapers (or television) for their entertainment. Fiction should do more than entertain; it should also broaden the mind."

Another editor (I quickly changed this one) tried to correct my grammar and spelling in dialogues. Now, to me, dialogue is sacrosanct. Apart from obvious typos, no one fools around with it. Words in dialogue are, after all, not my words, not the editor's words. They belong to the character speaking. You wouldn't say, "Just between you and I" but one of your characters certainly would. You'd die rather than say, "Me and my friend did..." Would one of your characters? You betcha.

Years ago, I was responsible for training several would-be writers for an international corporation. It was hoped that what they wrote would convince those who read it to buy our products and services. These young writers soon became sick of hearing me say, "We don't write the way we speak, any more than we speak the way we write. Writing is a visual medium; speaking is an audible medium." I convinced them (I think) to throw away the style manuals (or at least leave them on the shelf most of the time), and concentrate on what was important: getting a message across, a message that was brief, succinct, and easy to read.

When it comes to the final showdown, who wins, editors or you, the writer? That's an easy one. Editors. Certainly you have the right to take your work elsewhere. My rule on this is quite simple. If I have any doubt whatsoever of the suitability of what I wrote, I don't mind giving in, especially to an editor who is usually cooperative. Such an editor deserves my cooperation. On the other hand, if I believe I could not go on living with myself by abandoning my precious words, I'll insist it stay as written and accept the consequences. Quod scripsi, scripsi.

The test of fiction writing is not whether it conforms to any style manual, but whether or not it works for you, the writer. Unless your words move you to laugh or cry (preferably both), it isn't likely to affect anyone else. How do you make your words work? The formula is simple, although not easy. You must make your words flow as though they were about to run off the page. The nonfiction writer must be careful that all facts are correct, make sure the writing conforms to the publication for which it is written, and for the intended audience. You, as a fiction writer must do the very same, but only as a starting point. You must go on become a poet, a word-painter, a strummer on people's emotions. The person who originally said one picture is worth a thousand words had it all backwards. A thousand words can conjure up as many pictures, as many emotions as there are people who read them.

As a writer of fiction, you need only keep one eye on your style, and only an occasional eye on the rules set down, but you must at all times keep both eyes wide open and directed towards that which you hope to pursue, and by that I mean pursue that noblest of trades: the writer who leads others to far-off lands in this world and in other worlds; the trade of Dickens or Tolstoy; of Bradbury or Poe, of Cartland or Hemingway; and above all, the trade of ________(please insert your name here.)

copyright 2003 Joseph E. Wright

Conditions of use: Editor: The following article is offered for free use in your ezine, print publication, or on your web site, as long as the content is not altered, and the copyright and author credit box at the end are also included. Notification of use would be appreciated.

Joseph E. Wright is the author of Tales from the Wrecktory (http://www.metropolisink.com}, The Bodies Out Back and The Remigrants (both published by http://www.booksunbound.com). His writing has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

About The Author

Joseph E. Wright was born and wemt to school in New England and later moved to Philadelphia. He considers Philly his home town. Joe grew up addicted to the British cozies of Christie and Sayres and the American counterparts of Queen and Stout. He was a fan of the film noir of Hammett and Chandler.

His first published novel, Memorandum of a Murder (Manor Books) confirmed his determination to become a writer. A short story of his appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

While writing, Joe had to make a living, which he did in many ways. One period of his life, he lived in a dark, rambling, nineteenth century rectory in downtown Philadelphia. It inspired his Tales from the Wrecktory (MetropolisInk) which appeared last year.

Somewhat different from the whodunit style of novel, Joe's The Remigrants, the story of those who return from the dead, is currently in the editorial stage. The Bodies Out Back is the first in a completed trilogy starring Pat Montgomary and Phillis Toner. The next two, The Maris Cove Murders and Aisle of the Dead should be published this coming year.

Joe and his life partner spend most of the year in sunny Florida.

[email protected]

In The News:

This RSS feed URL is deprecated, please update. New URLs can be found in the footers at https://news.google.com/news

Winston-Salem Journal

Engineer-turned-writer finds her voice writing for kids
Winston-Salem Journal
Answer: I went to college for mechanical engineering and didn't take any writing classes. So it took me years to find my genre and voice. Not to mention that I knew nothing about the business of publishing. Initially, I bounced from romantic comedies ...


Ashley Monroe on Sexy Songs, Writing While High and Unattainable Crushes
We've been writing. We went on the road recently and that was really the first time we've sat down with the intention to just write. We did once at Miranda's house, but sometimes we get to talking, we get distracted. But on the road a few weekends ago ...


Jordan Peele Jokes He's Writing Get Out 2 After Kanye West Tweets About the 'Sunken Place'
Jordan Peele, who wrote and directed the Oscar-winning horror thriller, joked that he's getting started on a followup after the rapper referenced the film in a Twitter post. “Do this look like the sunken place,” West, 40, asked fans, along with a photo ...
Jordan Peele Tweets Kanye West Has Inspired Him to Start Writing 'Get out 2'Comicbook.com
Kanye West's 'Sunken Place' Tweet 'Inspired' Jordan Peele To Start Writing 'Get Out 2'UPROXX
April 25, 2018 - TwitterTwitter
all 754 news articles »


Eric's Heroes: One woman's fight to keep the art of letter writing alive
Rachel is a one-woman army, venturing out to wage mortal battle against lazy, thoughtless communication. She puts out little tables and chairs, stationary and envelopes, buckets of pens. Rachel calls herself "the letter farmer." She is here to help you ...


Curtis Sittenfeld on Writing Her New Short-Story Collection and Adapting It Into a Kristen Wiig TV Series
I think I felt wound up from being on book tour, and kind of distractible, and I thought, “I need to calm myself down by writing.” So I wrote this story that I called “Gender Studies,” and I submitted it to The New Yorker. When that story was submitted ...


Researchers digitize writing with cheap, touch-sensitive paper
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a paper that can track touch, which, among other applications, could lead to an inexpensive way to digi...

and more »

The Texas Observer

In Washington, DC, Republicans are Writing the Recipe for a Smoldering Panhandle
The Texas Observer
A plan to increase the number of acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program but cut staff to enforce program rules spells trouble for the fire-prone region. by Christopher Collins @collins_reports. Wed, Apr 25, 2018 at 8:41 am CST. Prescribed ...

Hartford City News Times

TU professional writing students published by American Christian Fiction Writers
Hartford City News Times
Four Taylor University students in the professional writing major have co-authored a piece published in the Spring 2018 edition of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). Taylor students Aubree DeVisser, Olivia Lauritzen, Kenzie Nevins, and Rachel ...

Edgy Labs (blog)

Researchers Discover an Inexpensive way to Digitize Writing
Edgy Labs (blog)
Researchers from the Carnegie Mellon University developed a type of paper that could make digitize writing less expensive. Because digitizers like the Wacom Tablet are costly, a group of researchers came up with a way to make digitize writing and ...

ECM Publishers

West Metro Walkout students launch letter-writing campaign for gun reform
ECM Publishers
West Metro Walkout members hosted a letter writing and phone bank event April 20 at Lunds & Byerlys at Ridgedale Center in Minnetonka. The event was after the day's school walkouts and Minnesota State Capitol rally that marked the 19th anniversary of ...

and more »
Google News

Mixing and Mingling: The Door to Publication?

Mixing and mingling with industry professionals is an opportunity that... Read More

Tips for First Time Authors : 2 Easy Steps to Make Your First Book a Success

Congratulations on writing your first book. That is quite an... Read More

If You Want to Succeed As a Writer, Dont Just Think It, Do It

It never ceases to amaze me when a prospective writer... Read More

Applying KISS Principle in Writing

I have added a new word to my vocabulary. Logorrhea.... Read More

An Inside Look at Proofreading

This is the ideal topic for us all to think... Read More

A Book Note Vs a Book Report

IntroductionSince our early days of elementary education we have been... Read More

Create Confidence With Your Writing

Whether you are writing a magazine article, composing a press... Read More

Know Your Editing Choices

Each author has special editing needs. To save yourself time... Read More

Writers Who Consistently Cut The Mustard Do So Because...

Have you ever wondered why certain writers are able to... Read More

Building a Character Wall

For any great novelist, defining your cast of intriguing characters... Read More

Top 5 Rules of English Grammar

Communication is effective when we follow certain rules. These rules... Read More

Writing Requires Self-Control

The only way to become a writer is to write.... Read More

Becoming a Writer

The urge to write fiction seems God given for some,... Read More

Could Your Book Idea Be the Next Best Seller?

Everyone has a unique story to tell. From explaining business... Read More

The Iniquitous Slip

All the famous writers I heard of could paper the... Read More

Be Your Own Literary Agent and Get Published

So you're one of 20 million Americans who want to... Read More

8 Ways to Write a Winner Book Fast!

Have you given up on getting your book out of... Read More

Freelance Writing: A Career From Anywhere

An island in the Mediterranean. A beach in Africa. The... Read More

That Cute Lil Ol Apostrophe

Have you ever had a student write to tell you... Read More

How You Can Find Freelance Editing Jobs

Freelance editing opportunities are out there, you just need to... Read More

Autobiography: Installment No.3

ESSAY 3Writing an autobiography involves a matching up of a... Read More

Getting Published Is Different For Everyone: Two Paths Among Many

One obvious question that can get overlooked in the process... Read More

The Makings of a Personal Essay, Really

Sometimes I can be dense when it comes to realizing... Read More

Review of A Classic: Finneys Invasion of The Body Snatchers

To keep it simple and basic: Jack Finney's Invasion of... Read More

Writing the PDA Way

When we think of writing it triggers many thoughts and... Read More