Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

On Writing Style: the Realists Versus the Rest of Us.

In regards to questions on style in writing prose, one thing is certain: It depends.

French prose is the start and end of all matters of prose style. Why? Because not only is French as a language more amenable to supple and sinuous turns of style, but it is less hampered by the shackles of the demand for actual substance in writing by an indulgent and fickle French reading public. (One year it is novels as jigsaw puzzles, the next cannibalism as romance... crikey French readership what's wrong with youse??)

The basic dichotomy I perceive is the realistic prose stylists versus the Rest of Them.

The Realists...
Some writer called Flaubert used the concept of a "telling detail". He said you only need the detail that helps TELL THE STORY AND NO MORE. His realistic style proved the basis for French writers for a century.

Now I find Flaubert dull. I found his novel Madame Bovary so dull, you could hire the dvd and not finish watching dull you could fall asleep using the pages as toilet dull that a recital by lesbian midget circus performers in midair juggling flaming sticks would... but you get the idea: boring boring boring man and writing and books. But this is the really cool thing about style - you might pick up Flaubert (play safe) and really enjoy his books.

So the instruction from Mister Flaubert - for those who don't speak French, Flaubert is pronounced 'Phallaeo-Bart' - the instructions for writing realistic telling details in prose, are as follows: for creating telling details is to ask yourself if each detail advances the story, and omit those that do not.

...And The Rest of us.
Style is complex and elusive, because it is related to your fundamental strengths as a writer and abilities as a human. To develop style, read the great stylists, reflect on your strengths and their strengths, and vigorously experiment with your writing.

Start with purchasing and reading every year or two a copy of Strunk and White's legendary book 'The Elements of Style'. Continue to George Orwell's 'Politics and the English Language' (found online with a quick google). Every single writer I know has read and admires both of these.

Then I suggest you push at the limits of modernity. Try the two great trans-realistic prose stylists of the last century, Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolfe. Woolfe's prose is simply gorgeous, and Proust's is very very funny. But reading will not take you all the way.

Proust and Woolfe both wrote "pastiches" of other writers - that is, they rewrote their own essays or stories in the tone of another writer. They did this because that gave them freedom over and from the style of the other writer.

As a rule, then, you will see that style is learnt sequentially by imitation, by theft, by imitation and by transforming - the same way children get good at speaking and the way by which adolescents transform language.

Good writers began by recognising and imitating their betters; develop and expand their abilities by stealing from vital equals; learn by vigorously adapting the greats through pastiches; and then the rare great prose stylists become great by innovatively transforming their own merely good writing by infusing it with the vivid awareness of the greatness of the prose of other writers.

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