Wild Words . . . Photos & Fine Art

Co-creating by heart with sandy cathcart through writers helps and art info, focusing on all things wild.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Coming Out in Style!

Did you know that Dean Koontz uses adverbs?

That’s right. Seems he believes they are a valid form of speech.

David Baldacci also uses them. In one of my all-time favorite books, the christmas train, Baldacci starts out with an adverb in the first sentence and keeps the rhythm going thereafter.

And guess what else? Koontz and Baldacci use “ing” words to start sentences.

“No way!” you say.

“Yes way.”

And not only that . . . people LOVE their books.

By now, some of you may be asking what is the big deal.

The big deal is if you have attended any writing classes at all, one of the first things you will learn is that you shouldn’t use adverbs. And while I don’t know the view of the general market classes on this one, I do know that every writing teacher I’ve had at a Christian writers conference has harped on not using any adverbs at all.

Okay. I understand that under most normal circumstances adverbs denote the weak use of verbs, but there comes a time (rarely of course!) that an adverb simply makes the sentence roll off the tongue better than without. See how that worked?

Now, there’s something I don’t hear much about at writer’s conferences—rhythm!

I was a songwriter long before I started writing prose, so rhythm is a big deal to me. Varying sentence structure; using beats; making sure sentences don’t all start with the same word (pronouns are big killers here . . . how many sentences do you start with the word “he” or “she”?); varying lengths of paragraphs and sentences; using choppy sentences to denote action, longer sentences to slow it down; and yes, using an adverb now and then to get a certain roll going. All of the above brings a certain flow and rhythm into your writing that becomes your style.

Style! That illusive word. Many writers torture themselves trying to figure out if they have style.

Perhaps style is easier to see in the visual arts. I’m posting two of my paintings here to show a certain style that I have as an artist. When people in my region see my work, they immediately know it is mine. I suspect style is evident in the written word as well, for those who have eyes to see it.

Of course, all writers have style, but some of us find it difficult to discover our own unique style compared to someone else’s, and sometimes we are so busy following rules and trying to sound good that our style gets buried. One sure way to have style is to write the way you speak.

Now, there’s a fresh idea. What would happen if you actually wrote like you speak?

Such an idea frightens most beginning writers. They’re afraid they won’t be deep enough, or their words will be too juvenile. Truth is, profound is best understood through the simple.

Okay, that’s a Sandy quote, but one worth remembering. The greatest speakers in the world use simple language to convey great truths. That’s why we often choose to speak in story, but the way I tell a story should be much different from the way you tell a story. That is what style is all about. And although I think it is important to learn and implement good writing rules, style is often about breaking those rules, not because you don’t know how to follow the rules, but because you’ve discovered a rhythm that works better.

For the next couple of months I plan to talk about when and how to break rules in order to discover your unique style. You won’t always agree with me. That’s okay. But I think this discourse will help you think in a broader way. Instead of focusing on rules, you will be focusing on story . . . and that’s always a good thing.

I apologize for being away from this blog for so long. I’m back now, and plan to post two or three times a week. Your comments would be great, but I understand a lot of you prefer to lurk and e-mail me in private. That’s okay too. But if you have questions, please be sure to let me know and I’ll do my best to answer.

Happy writing!