The uniqueness of writing is similar to how a fingerprint is to each individual. At first glance, they may seem the same, but upon closer inspection, they are vastly different from each other. It’s part of what I find so interesting and enthralling about writing as it is precisely what makes us like or dislike different content.
But one should note that there is a difference between style and skill, and neither should be confused for the other.
Style is what adds flavor to the writing. It is how the writer pieces together sentences and push the flow of the content towards a current. Style is word choice and dialogue preferences and common habits of the writer. Think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
Skill is how a writer structures a story. It is how they know when to use a different word, or slip in a subtle description. Skill is the story itself, while style is how the story is told.
A good way to tell the difference between the two is to think of Gandalf; tall, bearded, grandfatherly wizard that he is. Perfect for telling stories, and even better for adventures. If Gandalf himself is what builds the story, that makes him the skill and his voice the style. In writing, our brains are the skill, and our hands on pens and keyboards are the style.
The best stories are made of the two coming together in a beautiful dance. Softly, with rounded edges and smooth surfaces. Woven so tightly together that one cannot be pulled from the other. The best writers have slowly stirred the two into their veins over time, merging them naturally.
The worst stories are made up of one or the other, with no joining of the two at all.
Without style we encounter either bland stories, or cheap copies of better ones. When writers avoid any focus on style, they tend to either copy the styles of others, or they leave it out entirely. This makes for plain, boring stories, that may have excellent structure, but fall short all the same. Think of how awful it would be to hear Gandalf read you a story in monotone.
Writers who prefer to write with skill alone tend to make excellent journalists and instructional manual writers, but their content is not exactly engaging. In order to have style, you need to search for it by spending a lot of your time reading and writing so that you can seek it out and capture it.
Without skill and only style, we have very colorful writing that makes no sense. It’s like Gandalf on acid: a side story here, an overwhelming description there, all with a dash of unicorns and rainbows in the middle of downtown Halifax. It’s vibrant, it’s sometimes engaging, but not for long. Readers generally lose interest quickly, because of the terrible writing and poor technical abilities throughout the work.
Many, many writers self-publish stories that have a lot of heart in them, but very little skill. Style is well and good until you need to understand the anatomy of a story, then it sort of falls apart like a body with no bones. You gain skill the same way that you gain style: by reading and writing until you have a solid understanding of the technical aspects of authorship.
The lack of the two coming together is yet another downfall of self-publishing, and contributes to the daunting number of mediocre e-books flooding the market. Unfortunately, it is a big reason that it is so difficult to find footing when publishing on your own, as it can be extremely difficult to make your book stand out among a sea of bucket list check-marks.
While I do appreciate that self-publishing has allowed many writers to skip over the often disappointing and difficult journey of finding an agent, submitting to publishers, and waiting for rejections or acceptances for months and months, it has also robbed us of a gatekeeper. Self-publishing has no acquisitions process, which means that anyone can publish anything for any reason, at any skill level, with or without a defined style.
When there is no slush pile to sort through, the actual gems are buried even farther down than they were before, making them nearly impossible to find. Those writers that marry skill and style together in the best ways are lost and sometimes never found. For me, it is one of the things that keeps me from self-publishing.
Do you think that style and skill should go together?
What is your favorite example of the two coming together? (I recently read Red Rising and really appreciated how the two intermingled).
How do you feel about self-publishing?
I’ll be on Facebook until next time.