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Making style guides fun?

Discussion in 'Chit Chat' started by 2WayParadox, Dec 18, 2014.

  1. 2WayParadox

    2WayParadox Sage

    I'm currently reading 'The elements of style' and I will apply it to a manuscript. I'm curious to see what I will find in my own writing.

    Now, the question is how to make this more fun. I want to become a better writer, but it's putting me to sleep so here I am, looking for your experiences. How have you made learning and applying a style guide easier on yourselves? Without hurting the results ofcourse.
  2. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    I don't know what a style guide is, but the way I developed my styles (because they change from book to book) was to write short stories. By experimenting with different characters, I learned how to get into their heads and by doing that, different styles came more naturally. I found that when I was writing a rogue sort of Robin Hood type character, his voice and my style fit his personality, and when I wrote a wolf as my MC, my style changed to what I thought an animal would experience/ think.

    Conducting "exploratory writing" I developed a huge arsenal. True, a few of my characters now have similar voices, but I'm sitting on a pile of short stories and novels. I would hope that if a reader reads my short story "The Diablarist" and my novel "Written in Red" they would say, "Wow, these things were very different, but now that you mention it, I can see how they were written by the same person."

    I think a writer has to develop a certain comfort with writing anything. That's why I compete in so many prompt challenges. By doing something my heart isn't wrapped up into, I can be more flexible in my writing style, so that's how I developed it.

    I guess my long answer turned short, would be to use exploratory writing. Think of something silly, three random things, and write a short story, less than 5k words. Then do five more of them. Random things like: A locked door, a teapot, and a dark secret. Then do a buried treasure, a voice from the past, and a one-eyed fisherman. Then try a fortress on a hill, an ugly woman, and werewolf's legacy. The more combinations of randomness you try, the easier it will be to pull styles from your rear end, and the more confident you will be writing anything.

    You'll have a deeper understanding, anecdotes, memories, jokes, analogies-all appropriate to that particular character, and it will help you apply those things to your well-loved novel characters. The one thing I see most commonly lacking when I critique, is characterization. With strong characterization, the reader is sucked in and the story is almost an afterthought, because the reader is so thoroughly enjoying a character.

    Description flows through the character filter, his assessment of the scenario does too, and so does his dialogue. Stylistically, I'd have to say I prefer a bit of grit, a sort of rawness of emotion, and a sort of familiarity between the reader and character, so I lean heavily toward those things in all my writing, but the way those elements are executed varies from work to work, depending on the character. I'll leave you a couple examples of what I mean (because I meant to make a short post but I love examples):
  3. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    From a short story:

    Here, there are ravens, and their story is mine.

    A lonely call echoed, raspy and shrill through the autumn-painted cottonwoods of the valley. A lone raven sat, still searching for his mate–long gone, I knew, but was unable to tell him as much. The fact that my friend persisted in searching for her threatened to bring a tear to my eye.

    I am the Reaver, and my tale is one of ravens’ calls, portending death.

    I crept through the forest, my eyes on the floor, searching for the trail I lost. If I’d been a better tracker, I could have kept my mind focused on the task at hand, rather than drifting into a not so distant past, the day I’d encountered my first harbinger of doom.

    His name was Po and not because of any damned poet from the western shore. I named him that because when I met him, he was sitting on a road marker, one sign pointing north to the village of Glasburg, the other pointing east to Po. The bird was perched on Po and he didn’t look inclined to move.

    At first, I had a laugh, turning north, with my purse dangerously empty and my belly not faring better. But, before I’d gotten ten paces from the fork, the infernal bird was circling me and shrieking like I’d trod on its nest.

    Now I’m not a timid man and I’m certainly no pushover, but seeing as my only blade had befallen a sort of tragedy and my funds were few, I had only my fists to defend myself. And, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to land a punch on a flapping, scratching bird, but it’s harder than it sounds.

    I lost the battle, I’m ashamed to admit, and retreated, all the way back to the milepost, where the frenzied avian took up his perch again and kept his black eyes upon me.

    Mercenary, I am, but an idiot I am not. I headed east, my watchful gaze never leaving the crazy carrion-eater as I backed up the road, one step at a time. And that seemed to make him happy. He took flight again, circling me on air currents I couldn’t feel, and seemed to give a joyful shriek as I made my way toward Po. When I realized he aimed to travel the whole way with me, I thought he ought to have a name.

    “You should have just told me, Po,” I called up to the bird, rubbing at a scabbing scratch I’d received earlier from my new friend. “Would have saved us some awkwardness.”

    And from a novel:

    The silence of the breaking day was disturbed by the rustling of leaves being picked up by the wind and the crunching of others under mercenaries’ feet as they trudged back and forth in the yard. Alayna pulled her cloak around her shoulders, watching. The mercenaries had the look of Andruain men, most of them. Light hair, broad shoulders and weather-beaten skin. Half had bald heads, covered by the same knitted caps children wore all winter. It didn’t boost Alayna’s confidence.

    “Laynie, are you scared?” Ian asked form beside her.

    She shook her head silently. The horses’ breath steamed in clouds as men led them around the yard to keep warm on the frigid morn.

    “I am,” he said. “Why can’t Granddad come with us?”

    Alayna shielded the side of her face from the gusting wind. “How would it look for him to run away now? The council would ruin him.”

    “They’re just a bunch of puffed-up turkeys, strutting around like the whole world ought to be looking at them. Who are they to say what Granddad can’t do?”

    Alayna smiled despite herself. Ian wouldn’t appreciate her finding humor with his argument. His full lips turned into a pout and the nostrils of his small upturned nose flared as he vented what he really thought of the most powerful men in town.

    Dark curls framed the boy’s face; he was the spitting image of her. Tears leaked from his eyes and he wiped them away. It was the only difference between them, their eyes. Where Alayna’s were soft and green, Ian had piercing blue eyes. Their father’s eyes. Alayna’s smile faded.

    She wrapped her arm around him, reminding herself he was only twelve, a child, afraid and insecure. “Granddad is a brave and powerful man. He’s needed here with the other mages to protect Mist. When he’s able to, he’ll meet us in Eddenmark.” She kissed his cheek and steered him back into the house, careful to avoid the bloody glyph healing on the back of his shoulder. She knew how it hurt. Hers stung mightily under the weight of the cloak.

    A precautionary measure, Conrad called it. Blood magic, others would say in trepidation. Alayna didn’t care either way. They were probably better off with enchantments they couldn’t lose or misplace on their journey.

    And another short story:

    Audhelga stepped into the pub, her cold eyes settling on everyone dining or drinking in the fine establishment. It was obvious who she’d come to meet… the only one who didn't look away when their gazes met. With metal-clad boots stomping the floorboards, she approached the woman in dark robes. “You’re Mariyah?” Audhelga asked, her baritone voice rising only slightly above the grumbles and grunts of drunken men.

    “You’re the woman warrior?”

    “The breasts would indicate so,” Audhelga said, sweeping her cloak aside to reveal her dented steel breastplate that could hardly be described as more decent than if she’d just been nude.

    “Well then I guess we wait for our other two.” Mariyah settled her dark eyes on the door. It was a silent moment before the door opened again, allowing a brutish man well over six feet into the public house. “Is that him?”

    Audhelga shrugged. “Might be. He’s supposed to be tall, and that one sure is tall.”

    “With a name like Kahn I’d have expected him to be a little… less fair-haired.”

    “The director only told me he was tall, and unless that’s him, we’ll be in the shit, having to drag one of these other sorry sods with us.”

    “Are you Reginald Bothwix the Third?” the brute asked, approaching.

    Audhelga tapped her steel breasts.

    “Oh, sorry." He turned to leave.

    “You must be Kahn.” Audhelga stood to greet her companion. “I hope your skills prove useful in battle. It’s already plain you weren’t hired for your brains.”

    Mariyah choked on her ale and said, “You have found your party, Kahn. Reginald hasn’t shown yet.”

    With a scowl on his face, Kahn looked from one woman to the other, but kept his mouth shut. Audhelga smiled.

    “So Reginald isn’t our leader?”

    “Nope. You’ll be taking orders from me. I hope you haven’t got a problem with that.”

    He took a seat silently next to Mariyah. “You’re our mage?”

    “That’s right, and that leaves Reginald as the man who's going to get us into the party.”

    Audhelga rolled her eyes. If the gods’ cold hearts knew any mercy, they would send a sneak-thief that had at least some sense. If not, Audhelga’s party would be lucky to live long enough to see their reward.

    When Audhelga caught sight of their last member, her heart sank. The gods were cruel.

    “Oh no, not Helga the Horrible!” wailed the tiny man as he appeared near the table. “I thought you were hung after you killed that troubadour.”

    “I didn’t kill him.”

    “You bit off his ear and bashed in his eye socket!”

    “Neither of which are fatal wounds,” she growled, baring teeth.

    “You two know each other?” Kahn piped in then, sealing the deal for Audhelga. Mariyah gently set her hand on his arm and shook her head to tell him to stop speaking.

    “That’s right,” Audhelga snorted. “Grab-ass, here, worked a job with me about a year ago.”

    “I told you, I was picking a swamp slug off your great hairy rump!”

    “Well touch my rump again and I’ll plant my boot where the fairy dust don’t shine!”

    “I’m a pixie, not some damned flitting fairy!”

    “A boy fairy?” Kahn guffawed, before taking an elbow from the smug mage.

    “Hey, meat-head I’m all man, and if you need me to prove it…” his tiny hand went for his belt.

    “Enough,” Audhelga roared. “I doubt very much any here are interested in what’s under your skirt, Tinkerballs. Let’s get this show on the road, already. We’ve a long walk ahead of us, and every minute we waste in this dump is another minute our pockets and bellies are empty.”

    I don't' know whether those look written by the same person or not, but I just wanted to show you a touch of my "style" so you could discern how it changes depending on my character/ setting/ immediate goal.

    Hope your journey to develop your own writing style is as fun as mine was!

    Best wishes!
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  4. 2WayParadox

    2WayParadox Sage

    Elements of style is not a book on how to write a story, it's about which thigns to avoid in your language in order for it to read better. These are the first two sentences of the book:

    This book aims to give in brief space the principal requirements of plain English style. It aims to lighten the task of instructor and student by concentrating attention (in Chapters II and III) on a few essentials, the rules of usage and principles of composition most commonly violated.

    Things like style and voice, I'm hesitant to go into. I'd rather just write a lot and then edit it so it feels better to me instead.
  5. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    I'm assuming you're talking about Strunk and White's Elements of Style?

    I think it contains lots of useful tools that are good to know about. But IMHO trying to conform your text to all those rules is a mistake. Learning about a tool is the first step. Learning how and when to use that tool is the second and most important step.

    The best way IMHO to use a style guide is to read it quickly, and what ever sticks in your head sticks. As you write, if you remember stuff from the style guide, try applying it. If you don't, don't worry. What you don't remember probably doesn't apply to what you're writing right then.

    At a later date go back and re-read the guide again quickly. You'll probably pick up stuff you missed on the first read, and because you've written things, you'll understand more clearly how things in the style guide apply to your writing.
    2WayParadox likes this.
  6. 2WayParadox

    2WayParadox Sage

    @penpilot: this was very useful advise, I like it when people are concrete
  7. Pamela Scalf

    Pamela Scalf Acolyte

    I use Elements when I do a re-read of my work and something seems clumsy or out of place. I then look up a reference that may be applicable to see if I've tripped over something I can learn to do better. I also use it if I want to try something different and need to see just which rule needs to be broken to accomplish it. That way I can use surrounding phrasing to indicate the rule is being broken deliberately. I hate it when I get the elements wrong and then have to rewrite. The book is as helpful to me as a dictionary or a thesaurus.
  8. 2WayParadox

    2WayParadox Sage

    And it's short, really short. I don't think I could get through a 300 page book full of stuff like that. Although most of the Elelements' contents I found useful.
  9. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    Language was what I was talking about, but I guess I incorporated more into "style" than you were looking for? A successful short story isn't one that cuts all adverbs or eliminates passive writing, it's one that is compelling and while writing rules are all fine and good, the advice I tried to give was perhaps much more advanced.

    My advice was to write. A lot! And exploratory writing is an easy way to incorporate new lessons/ goals into your work. The things that make stories successful aren't technical correctness, it's summed up as two words, style and voice. So if that isn't the "style' you were referring to, then I misunderstood what the guide was for.
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2014
  10. 2WayParadox

    2WayParadox Sage

    I did read your post, true, I skimmed the samples you posted, but the first post I read. And I'm considering it, writing different things, experimenting. It's just so foreign to me, I didn't get any literary training and so far writing has been a hobby. Now that I want to get serious about it I feel a little overwhelmed by the nuts and bolts of it. I can understand a short style guide like 'The elements of style', but I guess I don't really get what style refers to. Is logical advise to make prose read more smoothly style? It doesn't change the way you write, just makes it somewhat easier to read and more appealing (if done correctly).

    If feel like I have my own style of writing. It's difficult for me to talk about this because the whole thing around style is so confusing. You see it as your personal style of writing that changes with the feel of each story and even character, other people see it as guidelines for writing, even down to grammar. There's a big gap between the two and it's making it hard to have a focused discussion about this subject.

    I have only so much energy to spend every day and I'd like to save my creative energy for the book(s) I'm writing. But still, lately I've been thinking that if a short story idea pops up I'll write one. So please, don't think I ignored you, Caged Maiden, I appreciate your input. It was just beside the topic.

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