As long-time readers of this site probably know, I’ve been dabbling with longer writing projects over the past year or so. Well, after an attempt at writing a sci-fi horror thriller novel failed at about 21,000 words into the story, I tried to work out what had gone wrong. What had turned this fascinating project into the kind of dreary, unrewarding chore that I’d use literally any excuse to avoid writing more of it.
Surprisingly, the main thing turned out to be the writing style. Since I enjoy reading fast-paced novels, I’d tried to write one in this style – only to find that it was lacking atmosphere, had some fairly bland sentences and generally didn’t have the level of personality that I’d hoped.
So, I thought that I’d look at a few things that you can do if you find that you can’t use your favourite writing style.
1) Work out why: This sounds obvious, but it’s worth repeating. If several attempts at writing a novel in a writing style that you really love have failed, then you need to ask yourself why. To get the most out of doing this, you need to have enough experience with reading and thinking about books to be able to take a step back and look at your own failed fiction in the way that a critic would.
Once you’ve worked out what went wrong, then it is a lot easier to work out what to do next. Maybe you just need to practice more? Maybe you need to pay more attention to things like descriptions, characters, settings etc..? Maybe you need to plan your story more or less?
If you are having trouble with using a writing style that you really love, then you can’t really do anything about it until you know why it is a problem. So, read lots of books and look at book reviews too. Get into the mindset of a critic and then take a merciless look at your failed writing, comparing it to the books that you really enjoy and working out what the reviews would say. This might sound harsh or discouraging, but it’ll give you tons of info that will help to improve your next writing project.
2) Find your own style: Usually, if you’re having problems with a writing style, then this is because you want to be another author. You’ve read some really gripping, awe-inspiring fiction by someone else and you think “I want to write something like that!“. And there is nothing wrong with this. It is how writers learn and, often, how we get interested in writing in the first place. It is a totally natural part of being a writer.
However, as any piece of writing advice will tell you, trying to be another author will result in lacklustre second-rate fiction. But, why? Well, it’s all to do with how writers develop. Simply put, the best writers – the ones that inspire you to write – will often try to be a mixture of several other authors. As paradoxical as it sounds, the more writers that influence you, the more original, fresh and alive your writing will be.
It’s a bit like a palette. If you’ve only got one colour of paint then, no matter how good your painting might be, it’ll still seem a bit limited. If you’ve got lots of different paints, then you can mix all sorts of interesting colours and create a much more dramatic-looking painting.
And, this is how you find your own unique writing style. You read a lot and take influence from as many amazing authors as you can. Yes, your style might take a while to develop and it might look a bit different to what you might expect, but it’ll result in better fiction than just trying to be one other author.
3) Know yourself: Another good thing about reading lots of different authors is that you get to know what you do and don’t like in stories. And, if you’re willing to do a bit of introspection, then you might find that it is different to what you think that you like.
For example, I mentioned earlier that I enjoy reading fast-paced novels. And I do. However, the reasons for this are different to the reasons I enjoy writing. When I read fast-paced stories, I love the fact that I can just relax with them, that I can blaze through an entire book in a relatively short time and that they have the kind of ultra-dramatic focused plots that don’t take too much effort to follow. They are just fun to read.
Yet, the books that really inspire me, the ones that feel like more than “just a novel”, often tend to be a bit more slow-paced, descriptive, thoughtful, atmospheric, quirky etc… They are books that do things that only books can do, and aren’t just films on the printed page. Yes, these books take more effort to read and I don’t always feel the enthusiasm for this, but they usually tend to linger in my imagination and make me want to write something that will have the same effect on other people.
So, if you are having problems with your writing style, then it is well worth taking a deeper look at yourself. Chances are, you’re confusing what you enjoy reading with what really inspires you to write and/or what you are best at writing.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂