Thinking About Style

Friends and family seem to like The Parched Lands and I’ve gotten some good feedback from others. I like the story well enough. And as a science teacher, I will undoubtedly continue to think about the issues that the story explores.

Looking back over it though, I think I could have done a lot better with the prose.  I was writing this story on deadline — wanting to submit before CG’s theme Expectations closed at the month’s end. In that mindset, I paid a lot more attention to story and ideas than the writing.

Many might say that’s a good thing, that style is dead (or at least unnecessary) and I should just tell the damn story. This admonishment seems to hold particularly true for science fiction. Certainly, if pressed to rank them in terms of importance, I would put story ahead of ideas ahead of style, for both reading and writing. But style does matter.

Writing is a craft that is not just about conveying information and ideas. It is also about connecting human beings. Style plays with our conscious and subconscious awareness of the words, and helps the writer to craft an overall emotional response. And there are few stronger ways to connect people and ideas than through subconscious emotions.  My opinion is that to say style doesn’t matter reveals some level ignorance or laziness. And I’m pointing my finger mostly at myself.

Sometimes simple things like adverbial phrases poke out at me:

“Mr. Daveys” Kassidi said sharply. “Something’s wrong with Amanthi!”

[…]

“No harm, no harm,” said Mr. Daveys with a reassuring smile.

And I see many places where it would have been more effective to show instead of tell:

She felt self-conscious and tried to appear casual.

More broadly, I agree with my friend Brian Powell’s feedback that having Amanthi dream of being a writer might be a bit too self-referential, and that placing a story within a story for plot purposes can come off as contrived or forced. (for the record, he had a lot of positive feedback as well).

Perhaps I will always see ways I could have improved anything in hindsight — no work of creativity is ever done, after all. I really don’t think of myself as a perfectionist (just take a look at my room or the pile of dishes in the sink), but I do always want to improve my craft. Moreover, I want to spread a greater appreciation for style, aesthetic, and humanism in the genre, both as a reader and a writer. So I think the way to frame it positively is to take lessons for future pieces where possible.

In this case, I’m proud to be published — and I want to set the bar higher for myself.

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