Thinking about Style

Status report: I am very tired. I spent most of today proofreading. I had to do some proofreading for The Thorn and the Blossom, and then I had to do some proofreading for my next Folkroots column, which is coming out in the August issue of Realms of Fantasy. It’s called “A Brief History of Monsters,” and I think you’re going to like it. And then the Folkroots column for the October issue will be the Narnia column: “The Myth and Magic of Narnia.” So I’ve been working all day, and tonight I need to catch up on dissertation work.

Because I’ve been proofreading, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about style, and how important it is. Which is a good place to mention something I was asked to mention at Readercon. Ready? This is a treat for those of you in the area:

On Saturday, September 10th, there will be a writing workshop with Jeff Ford at the Freeport Community Library. Here’s the relevant information.

Writing Workshop with Jeffrey Ford

“Tapping the Subconscious”

This one-day course will help fiction writers to recognize and utilize their most formidable assets – dreams, the subconscious, and visualization. Students will practice techniques that help to unlock creative potential specifically related to writing fiction. The practicalities of craft and revision in relation to a subconscious approach to writing will also be discussed. There will be a series of written exercises that will lead to students writing a piece of fiction, which will be critiqued by the instructor and fellow students in a workshop setting.

Saturday, September 10th, 2011
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Freeport Community Library
10 Library Drive
Freeport, Maine

Fee: $125. Email to register. Payment is due no later than Sep. 3, 2011.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that Jeff is one of my favorite writers in the field, and that he’s a wonderful prose stylist. I hope he won’t mind my mentioning what I always find incongruous – that such a tough-looking guy would write such elegant prose. I envy anyone going to that workshop because I want to go too, and see what Jeff has to say about writing from the subconscious. But of course I can’t. By the way, if you want to read some of Jeff’s prose, here’s a story called “After Moreau” that was published in Clarkesworld. It’s actually not typical of Jeff’s style, but it does show his range. I mean, look at the difference between how it begins:

“I, Hippopotamus Man, can say without question that Moreau was a total asshole. Wells at least got that part right, but the rest of the story he told all wrong. He makes it seem like the Doctor was about trying to turn beasts into humans. The writer must have heard about it third-hand from some guy who knew a guy who knew something about the guy who escaped the island by raft. In fact, we were people first before we were kidnapped and brought to the island. I was living in a little town, Daysue City, on the coast in California. Sleepy doesn’t half describe it. I owned the local hardware store, had a wife and two kids. One night I took my dog for a walk down by the sea, and as we passed along the trail through the woods, I was jumped from behind and hit on the head. I woke in a cage in the hold of a ship.”

And how Jeff begins his novel The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque:

“Much to my unease, Mrs. Reed positioned herself, all evening, beneath or immediately to either side of her new portrait. She had, for this occasion, worn the same black gown and diamond necklace I had requested she wear when posing for me. Given the situation, comparisons between God’s work and my own were unavoidable. I daresay the Almighty’s original was found somewhat wanting in the face of my painterly revision. Whereas, in His unquestionable wisdom, He had gone for the grandiose in the formation of her nose and saw fit to leave a prominent gap between the front teeth, I had closed ranks and reduced to beautiful normalcy those aspects of her features that made her her.”

Quite different, isn’t it? That’s called range, don’t you know.

I’ve finished The Magician’s Book, and what I’m reading before I go to sleep each night is Stephen King’s book on writing, called On Writing. I sort of skimmed the first part, which was about King’s life, because to be perfectly honest, I’ve never really liked King’s style. It’s perfectly serviceable, but you know, I’m a Virginia Woolf, Isak Dinesen kind of girl. My favorite writing style is clean, lyrical. King’s is looser than what I like to read: for me, it lacks internal tension and structure. He mentioned in the preface to the book that popular fiction writers are never asked about their use of language, and I think there’s a reason for that.

But last night I read something in his book that I want to quote here, which is the following:

“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair – the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can some to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.”

And you know, I agree with that. Absolutely and completely.

That’s all I have for you tonight. I’m very tired nowadays, just trying to get all the work done. I hope it does all get done, eventually. I’m certainly trying.

I miss being able to spend time with friends, having an actual life. Well, that will come. I hope.

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1 Response to Thinking about Style

  1. Jeff P. says:

    Dora, thank you so much for plugging the workshop! You should come!

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