These last few days I’ve been trying to write a short story in the first person and it has me thinking about writing styles. I’ve found the depth of my analysis of the characters has had to change and that my style has had to change. It has me thinking about what authors have to go through in order to find their style. More specifically I’ve been wondering what authors go through to find their voices; the tone which comes across in their writing and makes it distinctly their own.
What distinguishes a good author from a great one is their knowledge of themselves. For a writer to be great his writing has to represent something which is true in themselves. If they cannot then how can they accurately depict the world which they create entirely from their own mind. Truth in writing makes the experience of reading worthwhile.
You cannot just decide to write in a certain way, it has to be a reflection of who you are. This is why aspiring writers who try to imitate the writing style of someone else, for the most part, fail. They are trying to borrow a personality which isn’t theirs. Hemingway has had many imitators but none that could recreate the tone of his writing.
That’s not to say, however, that he didn’t affect later writing. Great, more contemporary, novelists have had their work influenced by his style but in every successful case this was only if they knew their own voice first.
For example I’m reading Charles Bukowski’s Women at the moment and while his writing is sparse and devoid of extraneous flourishes, like Hemingway’s, his tone is completely different. The style could not have occurred in a world devoid of Hemingway’s writing but the voice would have remained. From the very first page of Bukowski’s novel it is obvious how different the two men are and this shows in their writing. The connection is that both reflect themselves in what they write. They write truthfully.
This is important for an aspiring novelist because, unlike in scholarly writing, for a novelist all subjects are worthwhile. That is, as long as it is meaningful and evokes an appropriate emotion. So for me now, moving from the academic world to the literary one I need to try to come to grips with who I am and how I want to write. I can’t write pretending to be someone that I’m not because my writing will either come across as fake or, worse, I’ll become the person I’m pretending to be.