“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
— W. Somerset Maugham
As a writer, the way you say something means just as much as what you say. It’s difficult to assess something and determine it was written by a “writer.” Who judges such idiosyncrasies? Do we call someone a writer because they have published books or written readable print? Or do we gauge writer-dom by the complexity of the verbiage and the incomprehensible crux of his interminable, orbicular clause compositions?
I began considering this, having begun writing something entirely new (it’s going to be another novel, *cough, cough*). How do I write? Do I follow any specified rules or do I apply any special formulas? Every writer claims not, but in their writing, every writer implements a system. No matter how simple or complex.
Hemingway, he wants to tell you something simple, but in telling you that, he’ll imply something far more nuanced. Henry Miller wrote all of the horrible, immoral things he thought and then created a book. Dickens meticulously constructed formulaic plots and caricature characters to support his criticisms of society. Kurt Vonnegut wrote several varied paragraphs linked only by a similarly eccentric style, and TADA!
I tote a few strange rules, though not so much rules as stylistic preferences. For example, I strive never to begin a sentence with “however,” “moreover,” or “therefore.” Sometimes, the words must be used, but a sentence can be written less awkwardly by inserting the word after the first clause. While this has nothing to do with grammar, I do it still. Some things simply embed themselves in your stories and style; they stay there.
Sometimes, my style of writing fiction and style of writing nonfiction merge, sometimes to create something great, other times… troublesome. In journalistic writing, there tends to exist rigid rules that prohibit from certain behaviors. Contractions, first person pronouns, and biased statements should never be found in a news story.
I, however, write op-ed pieces more frequently: I keep up not only this blog, but I also pen a monthly column for our school newspaper. In any pieces like that, I give my opinion. To learn to write objectively and subjectively, though, improves writing style overall.
I proclaim opinions in the form of anecdotes. I make sense of my beliefs by telling stories. Of course, this isn’t as good as using scientific data or “textual evidence.” But to reaffirm what you already believe, it can at least convey a thought. Even if a story is untrue, if what we mean by it is, then truth doesn’t even matter. Like parables, our memories serve to justify who we are. To explain our identities.
In a fiction story, as well, we use stories as evidence. Why is this person so mean? Could it be that he has a deficiency in his amygdala or because he was abused as a child? Storytellers rely on the social causes before turning to biological ones. But it’s how our minds work. Not so much in the sense of psychology: we are analyzing humans not on a mental level, but on an almost spiritual one. I prefer to think that the human race is more or less incomprehensible. The best we can do is… sympathize.
The best we can do to explain how we act is to tell stories. About our past or about things that never occurred.
Every writer writes differently, but what makes someone a writer, really a writer, is that through a story they hope to uncover a great
truth. The truth can spawn from the writer himself or perhaps it’s a truth about the reader, which the reader may discover through reading a book. Or maybe both, so that the act of writing is very much like telling prophecies. What you feel now, that indescribable emotion, will be felt by someone in the future when they read about what happened to you. About what you did. Somehow, a person will be touched through what you have written about.
Writers write with different inspirations, with varied “creative processes.” Some can only write in utter silence or in the peace of nature: that’s me. Some prefer to be in the clash and cacophony of life, sprint-typing in the center of some urban Starbucks. Dan Brown, after each hour of writing, does a quick set of push ups and then of sit ups.
I often write in the nude.
Whether you rely on the night sky or hardcore drugs, every writer is striving to find the same truth.
To answer my question, how do I write… well, style hardly matters. What really matters is the intent of the person; this universal intent binds us under the single title: