My Writing Style

Matthew Arnold wrote: “Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can.” Hemingway said it a bit differently: “My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the simplest possible way.”

I believe good writing is clear thinking, saying what you mean in the simplest possible way.

The problem for fiction writers is that we don’t always know what we mean when we stare at a blank screen. And we certainly haven’t rounded out those imaginary new friends we call characters. Much as when we move into a new community or take a new job, it takes a while to get to know people. That’s why a writer needs time to live in the story, to dwell inside the heads of his characters.

Over a series of rewrites, I try to understand my characters better. What is it is they want? What obstacles stand in their way? Then I lead them head on into those obstacles and let them battle their way through.

I try to say things in the most straightforward way. One of my favorite quotes is from Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of that gem of a book, The Little Prince. He said: “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” I aim to remove the unnecessary.

At the same time, I understand that a novel is a partnership between reader and writer. No reader will ever feel the same about the characters and the story as I do. My task is to give sufficient detail to stimulate their imagination, to provide enough brushstrokes to meld with their life experience and let them paint a picture of their own. Only in this way can the reader suspend their disbelief.

In previous blog posts, I give a couple of examples of this kind of use of detail:

So what style do I strive for? Be clear on what I’m trying to say, then say it in the simplest way. Provide sufficient detail to stimulate the imagination of my partner, the reader, but leave room for them to add their own distinct influence on the image in their mind. Only then will the magic of fiction work. Only then will they believe what they’re reading is real.

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