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The Most Durable Thing in Writing is Style

26 October 2011

The most durable thing in writing is style, and style is the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time. It pays off slowly, your agent will sneer at it, your publisher will misunderstand it, and it will take people you have never heard of to convince them by slow degrees that the writer who puts his individual mark on the way he writes will always pay off.

Raymond Chandler

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12 Comments to “The Most Durable Thing in Writing is Style”

  1. And I thought I couldn’t possibly love Raymond Chandler any more than I already did.

  2. Is this still true?

    • Yes. But not if you listen to people who are trying to sell you things, probably?

      This is sort of a pet peeve of mine.

      Writing gurus and publishers and what-have-you are always ranting against some element of style that less-than-great writers frequently screw up, and then blaming the element itself. Head hopping is bad! Nora Roberts sells a gajillion books. Third-person omniscient is out of style! You can’t use footnotes! Tell it to Susanna Clarke.

      Style, as long as it’s backed up by a reasonable amount of substance (which is actually not very much!), rules in every other sphere — why wouldn’t it here?

      • Genevieve – And don’t forget that Mickey Spillane, a guy with a very distinctive style that didn’t get much respect from experts, sold far more books than Ernest Hemingway, a guy with a distinctive style that did get respect from experts, did.

  3. If you’re writing at speed to take advantage of the great sales opportunities possible now, is style one of the first elements to go? The time needed to think and craft the words, sentences, paragraphs and pages, can seem less important than getting another title listed. Maybe I’m wrong.
    I could name a couple of authors with very strong sales who I would say have no style at all, it’s all plot.

    • Actually, I’ve found that style (or voice) becomes more clear when I write faster. Spending a lot of time thinking about using the “right” words and crafting the sentences and paragraphs just so would, I think, make style forced rather than genuine.

      Writing faster brings out your true voice.

    • Sometimes “style” can be “getting the words out of the way in order to tell the story,” I think.

  4. I don’t claim to be an expert on readers, but I think when they fall in love with your writing, your style, you’re going to have long-term fans.

    Yes, you can write gobs of books in a hurry and sell some, but becoming the best writer you can be is the key to a long career and books that continue to sell year after year.

    And in the long run, having to write a new book every two or three months to keep royalties coming in because your old books fall off a cliff after a few weeks will burn almost everyone out after awhile.

  5. Arnold Bennett: “Richness, elaboration, lyricism, and so forth, may be present in a particular good style, but they are not essential elements of good style in general. When a writer expresses his individuality and his mood with accuracy, lucidity, and sincerity, and with an absence of ugliness, then he achieves good style. Style—it cannot be too clearly understood—is not a certain splendid something which the writer adds to his meaning. It is in the meaning; it is that part of the meaning which specially reflects his individuality and his mood.”

  6. To my mind, what Ray is talking about is ‘voice’ – which has elements of crafting, but doesn’t necessarily need to be labored over. It’s figuring out your own unique way of using language and grammatical structure. Arnold Bennet’s quote above (thanks DDW) is actually an interesting look at voice. I think the same idea could be more clearly put, or obfuscated even further. 😉

    Dean Wesley Smith has said that an author needs to write a million words in order to get to a pro level. I think what he’s talking about is voice, too. Write. A lot. Let things flow, go back and tinker, but don’t *worry* about making precious little gems of sentences. Just write. 🙂

    • There’s another Bennett quote from that book that’s pretty funny, I almost included it earlier: There are many treatises on style. I shall recommend none of them, for the same reason that I would not recommend a book of “household medicine” to a hypochondriac. Let the aspirant read good stuff, learn the rules, and try to say merely what he means.

  7. Another great perspective, pulled from Kris Rusch’s post today. http://kriswrites.com/2011/10/26/the-business-rusch-believe-in-yourself/ (Another excellent one – go check it out!)

    “Should you learn craft? Of course. You need to learn how to tell the best story possible. You need to learn the tools of storytelling. You should not focus on the words, but on the unique way that you see the world. Everything in your writing should be in service of the story you are trying to tell, be that story a thriller in the traditional of James Patterson or a 500-page rhymed ode to a snail.” – Kris Rusch

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