I Discovered My Writing Style, At Least For Now
I set out to write my first novel, Picking Up the Ghost, with literary intentions, drawing influence from the American classics. Maybe I missed the target, maybe I produced old-fashioned prose that doesn’t sell. Whatever it was, it wasn’t a hit.
So I swung as far as I could in the other direction; Less is more. I removed the purple toner from my printer, tightened up scenes to 4-5 pages tops, put down the Hero’s Journey, and picked up the screenwriting guide Save the Cat for my outline. Ultimately, I ended up with a more honest style of prose, drawing influence from TV, film, and especially comics. No longer seeking the approval of some unknown and unknowable literary judge, my writing is now tight and visual, and my plot moves more than it talks. After much thought and research, I adopted two core rules to write by; the detached observer and dialog cues over dialog tags.
The detached observer is a form of third-person, limited narrator who can be in the POV character’s head, but chooses not to. Like a camera held over the character’s shoulder, he reports everything he sees and hears, without opinion. I only break this rule to offer insight into the POV character’s thoughts if I absolutely have to. Keeping the narrator out of the character’s head keeps the reader in the scene instead of inside the character; remembering or day dreaming.
Dialog tags like “he growled” or “she purred” are out of fashion. Writers can still get away with a “shout” or “whisper” but I took it one more step and cut as many as I could. Even “said,” especially “said.” If a character says something, they have to do something, even something small, as an excuse to drop their name in the narrative next to their dialog. Just like Ben & Jerry’s ice cream hits you on two fronts; taste and texture, dialog cues let you layer actions over words. Instead of “No,” Ainia threatened. I’ll write “No.” Ainia cracked her knuckles, and I can omit ‘said’ since it’s implied. Now something’s happening beyond lips flapping.
The combination of these techniques pushes the story out of the heads and moths of the characters and into their hands and actions. And actions speak louder than words, Tone shouted.