Wednesday, February 5, 2014

We Can See His Lips Moving by Jim Hart

User names and passwords.   I hate ‘em.  But it’s tough to navigate the WWW (World Wide Web) without engaging them.  Your password is your identity and is uniquely yours. It gets you into a place where no one else can go - into the heart of the web.

The experts advise us to create a different password for every internet site that we log onto. Right. It’s really hard to keep coming up with these passwords. A strong password should include numbers, letters (some uppercase) and maybe some random characters like #@% :). And apparently ‘123abc’ is not a strong password.

Your writing style is also your identity and is uniquely yours. It gets you into a place where no one else can go – into the heart of the reader. But just as it takes intentional effort to come up with those passwords, the same can be said of creating a writing style that is unique and shapes your identity as a writer.

As an agent, I sometimes struggle through portions of an author’s offering. Often I read aloud those passages that I find to be awkward and clumsy. I have found this to be a quick exercise that helps in determining how the writing flows. There is a natural rhythm in speaking (unless you call auctions or bingo).

This exercise can help in determining the rhythm of your story or narrative. Do you run out of breath due to excessive run-on sentences, or poor punctuation? Are some sentences so short that it’s hard to gain any momentum? Start. Stop. Start. It’s like driving in rush-hour traffic. Long and short sentences are not bad, just think about mixing it up. This is just one exercise to help you craft your unique writing style.
(But remember: DON’T say your password out loud!)

In the sixth grade our English teacher gave our class the assignment of imitating the style of one of our favorite writers.  I picked Ray Bradbury. His was a very visual style. I liked the way he described things with few words. He was able to select the right word at the right place. Jonathan Swift referred to this as putting “the proper words in proper places.”

So by studying, and imitating, Ray Bradbury’s style, I learned at a young age to appreciate the creative use of adjectives, metaphors and similes. This is just one component in developing a unique style.

These days I write mostly songs (and an occasional blog).  I know what I want to say, but chances are, somebody else has already said it. Now it’s up to me to either discard the idea, or work at coming up with a different, and hopefully fresh way of putting that idea ‘out there’.  I will write something, and immediately love it. This could possibly be the best thing I’ve ever written! The next day I play it out loud and I hate it. This could possibly be the worst thing I’ve ever written! And then we go back and revisit it and figure out how to salvage it.

Have you done that with a sentence? A paragraph? A chapter?

What makes your writing style uniquely yours? What’s the style that’s going to get you into your reader’s heart? I can't wait to read it. And yes, sometimes I still move my lips when I read.


Davalyn Spencer said...

Yes - the authors I read in sixth grade. However, for me, I was the teacher. That's when I discovered Gary D Schmidt, who may possibly be my all-time favorite author simply because of the way he shows me the setting. Setting is character in his stories - without a lot of description. How does he do that? I own every book he's written, and when I grow up I want to write ... well, you know.

Catherine said...

In eighth grade, I had a writing teacher who incrementally built our writing variety. We had to start each sentence with a different word. Then we had to have a certain number of compound sentences and so on. By the end of the year, our writing had improved dramatically.

Diana said...

The worst writing, the best writing. I see it all the time :-)
Reading it out loud is the number one piece of advice I offer to writers as well Jim. Great post.

Audrey said...

While reading my writing out loud for the first time at my writers' group. I quickly became aware of all of the errors and awkward phrasing. Even though I had read that writing to myself again and again while writing and revising, I didn't "hear" any problem. It was the first time I understood the importance of reading my writing out loud before I consider it polished and ready to submit.

Jim, I am thinking about going to St. Davids Christian Writers' Conference and was reading some information about it today. I see that you are going to be on the faculty. I am excited about the opportunity to meet you and learn more about your agency and the work you do!

David B. Smith said...

I recently read a book describing the various writing (life)styles of successful authors. One was so determined to hone his characters’ “voices” that he did his writing in a rented office, away from his family and other distractions. The guy would literally drag himself home hoarse each night – he’d spent his day speaking lines of dialogue out loud, pruning away anything that sounded artificial. Creating and then capturing realistic conversations in your mind is one of the challenging elements of writing a good novel; it’s surprising that even the giants like Grisham have an occasional clunker in their career. Thanks for the post encouraging us to be authentic and fresh.