More on Blending Styles

I took a look at extracts from:

For each one, I addressed the following questions:

  • What kind of text do you think this is?
    The AS text is one of autobiographical mourning around the death of a loved one tied in with a kind of a critique of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.
    The CR text is a selection of comments on various personal experiences of racism directed towards herself and others (mostly others).
  • Can you identify different kinds of writing in it?
    AS incorporates criticism and autobiography/memoir into her excerpt.
    CR has a little journalism, a little memoir and a little bit of social commentary in her piece.
  • How would you characterise the voice and tone?
    AS is playful with a hint of rebelliousness and a dollop of acceptance of death/loss.
    CR is resentful but very restrained. Very, very restrained considering the type of provocation she is exposed to.
  • Can you identify any central themes, and how does the text engage with them?
    The central theme of AS is acceptance of death and taking ownership of the things that now belong to her. The text engages with this theme very successfully in that the voice and tone convey feelings in a tongue-in-cheek manner that demonstrates the acceptance and the events of the text describe the ownership being taken.
    The central theme of CR is racism and her reaction to it. The text engages with this in a subtle way in that the author’s reaction to the events is non-violent and assertive, i.e. it is subtle and understated. The prose uses words and phrases that are similarly subtle. That said, there’s a powerful undercurrent of strong feelings here that the subtlety undercuts in an interesting way.

You could read/listen to the extracts yourself if you like.

Levels of Life – Julian Barnes

I took a look at extracts (pp. 3–5, 36–40, 67–71) from the three parts of Julian Barnes, Levels of Life  (2014) where the author describes … stuff. Actually, if you read what I’ve written below, you’ll get the gist.

  • What different kinds of writing can you identify?
    The first part consists of reportage: some repeating of historical facts in a matter-of-fact manner. The second part has approximately the same detached tone, but includes a measure of emotion, some little interior-dialogue and a whole heap of (fictional) conversation between two of the people mentioned it the first part. The last part is a monologue on life, love, death and grief. It is personal, heartfelt and affecting on more than one level.
  • Do these extracts seem to belong to the same genre?
    The extracts are in the same voice, with the same tone and a similar style but belong to different genres in that the first is journalism, the second is historical drama and the third is … I want to say confessional, but nothing is really confessed so I’ll say that it’s memoir in a literary and fictionalised style.
  • Can you spot any continuities or discontinuities, whether stylistic (e.g. similar or dissimilar forms of writing, types of voice and tone, or kinds of sentences) or thematic?
    There is a thread; a theme that runs through the pieces: that of meetings and … whatever the opposite of that is. Leavings? There are also other, more minor motifs as mentioned above.
    The pieces are on a gradient, moving from detachment to connection to separation. The emotion contained in these pieces also follows this curve (from less to more).
    The tone seem to remain fairly constant throughout all pieces; there is a kind of authorial detachment even when emotion reaches its peak.
    There’s an interesting continuity of voice in that the first piece describes being above (in balloons), the second starts with an overview (from above) and rather detached (using the pronoun ‘we’) point-of-view. This progresses to a more personal feel (pronouns: ‘he’ and ‘she’) as the characters come closer to each other. The last part continues this closeness in that it describes an intimate relationship and this leads to a sundering of the two, which leads to a different kind of emotional closeness that arises from the distance that death creates.
    There are stylistic discontinuities, as noted above, but they are mere devices. They enhance rather than disturb the deeper continuities in this work.

More About my Style

This is something that returns to an analysis of my style from here.

  • What is important to your style?
    Sense and understanding are important to my style. My style is a reflection of my thought processes. I tend to be rather analytical and this comes through in my writing. I like a story to make sense and so I don’t like to give the reader too many blanks to fill in by themselves. I have a line of reasoning and I follow it through to the conclusion of my story. The majority of the stories I write come directly from my subconscious. I don’t think them through in advance. This must show up somehow in my style, but I’m not sure how. I like to think that it means my endings are unpredictable because even I don’t know what they’re going to be until a few sentences from the end. But then again, if I can predict them at that stage, then my readers probably can. A few sentences from the end is not too bad, though, right?
  • What do you think it says about your priorities and commitments as a writer?
    My priorities are therefore that I get the buy-in of the readers. I want to say things that get them on my side. I want to be good. I’m committed to being good enough for people to like me as a writer. That actually doesn’t feel true to me. Part of me couldn’t give a rat’s ass what my readers think. Perhaps my subconscious cares, but it ain’t saying either way. Except in my stories. My unpredictable, likeable stories.
  • What consequences do they have for your work in progress and future projects?
    I’m in a funny position here on this course. On the one hand, I want to write in a carefree manner without regard to what any reader would think. On the other hand, I want to please, and in particular I want to please my tutor so that she passes me on this course. How do I resolve this? I play pretty for now. And I listen and learn and apply that learning. That’s all.

Precision and what it means to Style

As I seem to be doing a lot of just lately, I read an extract from Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer where she talks about the beauty of sentences in terms of three examples taken from Samuel Johnson’s brief biography The Life of Savage, Philip Roth’s American Pastoral and the opening of Virginia Woolf’s essay “On Being Ill”.

Then I answered these questions to my own satisfaction (’cause no-one’s reading my blog but me these days (probably because this is really boring for anyone but someone learning how to write creatively (like what I am))):

  • What kind of justifications does she find for the different stylistic qualities and choices of the writers she discusses?
    She finds SJ’s sentence to be great because of its clarity, which is ironic because I’ve read it several times and I still can’t make head nor tail of it outside of what FP (kindly) explains. She also delights that it is economical in that it only uses 134 words to express the simple expression ‘money doesn’t buy you happiness’ (Monty Python – Four Yorkshiremen). Yeah, sarcasm.
    I’m not at all sure why she likes PR’s sentences. Something to do with the rhythm of the percussive sentences, the call/response of the questions/answers and the parallels with exchanges between Job and God.
    As for the 181-word sentence from VW, I totally agree that it is “perfectly comprehensible, graceful, witty, intelligent, and pleasurable”. It’s as lucid and clear and SJ is not.
    Then come FP’s four rules to follow when editing a piece of writing: “Is this the best word I can find? Is my meaning clear? Can a word or phrase be cut from this without sacrificing anything essential? and (perhaps the most important question): Is this grammatical?”
  • How does this relate to precision?
    Taking precision as being the way that style is inextricably and symbiotically bound up with content, in a way that both exist to help and not harm the other, the statements FP make are supportive of this hypothesis/metaphor. Clarity, lucidity, comprehensibility and grammaticality are clearly closely bound up with precision. Heck, they might even be synonyms. I rest my case. Plus, I’ve a movie to go and watch now. And there are snacks!

Changing Style

I wrote something (original) and then I wrote two new versions. The first version was as elaborate and excessive as I could make it, and the other as distilled and bare as possible.
Original Version (telling it straight, nothing fancy, nothing to see here, move on):

There’s a guy I know that walks around town looking at all the girls. He looks for smooth skin. His eyes slip down and he admires their chests and, if there are time and opportunity, his eyes slide further down into their panties. Forget that they have winter layers; his eyes undress and caress. Then, for good measure, he swivels his neck and admires their asses as they passes.

He thinks himself quite the lothario living in the privacy of his own mind. He imagines the light to be free as it bounces off the bodies of those ladies and into his own eyes and mind. As for the gents? Let that light from those creatures escape back into the world and be lost.

Who is this man? Is he a youngster himself who wants to attract the eye of someone of his own age so that he can promise them the world? Is he a man of means who can provide love and land to his promised one? Is he perhaps a slightly older man who has seen enough of the world to be ready to settle? Or is he (and, in truth, this is he) a man coming to sixty (six-zero) who never went past sixteen (one-six) in his head!

I told him today that he needs to re-categorise the people he sees as he walks through his life. Little girls from play-mates to grand-daughterly. Old guys from grand-fatherly to peers and friends. Old women from grand-motherly to friends and peers. Young women from sex-objects to daughterly. Young men from rivals to son-like. Little boys from rough play-mates to grandson-like. And, most importantly, himself from teenager to grand-fatherly.

In this way, he can live his life whilst treating those around him appropriately. We go through changes and stages in life. It’s just not seemly to get stuck.
Elaborate and Excessive Version (flowering up the rhythm and syntax of the prose, maxing out on the types and amount of imagery, sweetly singing poetic techniques like alliteration and assonance):

Ah, see them come his way. Breaking his heart with their eyes and flattering, fluttering lashes. Is that a jiggle he sees inside that tantalisingly tight top? A sway in the step of that sweetly smiling lovely who swings her hips to the left and the right like she counting out the seconds till he sweeps her off her feet into his charms and arms. He sighs and never-say-dies when he turns to strip her skirt and socks away. Who’s to say she’ll say nay? What a sight this is, he sighs inside.

He’s quite the lothario living in the gutters of his mind-your-own mind. Light swoops down from the sun and falls into the curves and caresses of heavenly bodies on earth and then bounces out into his eyes and mind. He’s as lost in love as any can be out in the world. Love what you love and hang the rest, he says; today’s my day to drink deep.

But who is this buck (I hear you cry) tell me more of him! A teen with smooth skin that’s never felt the rasp of a razor’s edge? A twenty-something-or-other with cash to flash and a flash car to boot? A man who has fought dragons in far off realms and has returned to find his princess-next-door? Or if not, then who? Surely naught but young and fair with flashing smile and shining hair. What? This?! Wrinkled. Grey. Saggy. Get away!!

No, no, surely no. This is a mismatch; discordant disharmony. Stretch five into six and you’ll never find a sum that’s more wrong. And I told him so. Little girls do not playmates make. See older gents as your peers, not your elders. All the elders are your friends. Teach young men, rather than fight with them. And most importantly of all, look on those young women as you would a daughter; not as an object of your fevered lust. You’re a man, not a boy. Be a man.

One day I’ll watch him walk with face and features forward; focused and brave. And I’ll see his face, and I’ll read between the lines; the oh-so-many lines. And what will I see? Yes; a contented smile. Here’s hoping for a future fair.
Minimalist Version (distilled and bare):

Check that guy leching, dude!


There, that old bloke, checking out the jail-bait. Pshaw, man, that’s low.

He overhears and shrugs it off. Winds his head back into his neck. Says never again. Til ten seconds later. Another one. And another. And again. Like a sick obsession.

He listens to the voices inside his head, whispering justifications. They’re asking for it. They dressed like this for the attention. They want the reassurance that they look good. There’s no harm in looking. There are worse things. The light is free to catch. Bouncing around. Bouncing like …

Stop! That girl’s young enough to be a daughter. A granddaughter. A child in all but body. You’re not a teenager anymore. Grow up. Just stop for crying out loud!

So he stops.

And starts.

And stops.

And starts to fall apart.

And dies a little more today.

And more again tomorrow.

And the days grow dark.

And stuff shuts down.

And life drains.

And stutters.

And fails.

And then …

No then


Some after-thoughts:

  • How do the pieces compare?
    The first felt natural to write. The second was harder, partly because I was going over the same ground and partly because it’s not my natural style to be profuse and fancy (even though it’s fun). The third piece was a lot easier to write because it was shorter and because it’s closer to my style to be terse.
  • Did any possibilities arise in one that weren’t available to you in the other?
    In the fancier piece, I felt like the first section, describing the eye-candy, benefited from a more ornate style because of the nature of the thing being described. The last piece was more able to show appropriate disgust at the action of the old man. The first piece would benefit from additions from the second and third styles.
  • How does each style shift the meaning and/or emphasis of the piece?
    The flowery piece made it seem as if the narrator was condoning the actions and thoughts of the lecher. The minimalist piece was easier to use to convey a measure of disagreement with the sex-pest.
  • What elements would you take from either and re-use?
    It’s clear to me now how elements of both styles can be taken and used to send a message to the reader about the narrator’s intentions. Such a powerful tool and a valuable lesson.

Tone Examined

I cast my eyes over extracts from the beginnings of the following works:

  • Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children  (2008) – the part where the narrator describes his birth: midnight on the 15th of August 1947; the precise moment of India’s independence.
  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (2005) – the part where the narrator explains a little about what it means to be a carer for ‘donors’. I suspect, but don’t know, that donors are people (clones) who give their organs continually until they die.

Both introduce us to a reminiscent first-person narrator. Here are my answers to the following questions:

  • How would you compare their styles?
    SRs style is that of a maximalist; long sentences and lots of hypotaxis where he daisy-chains clause after clause. KI is more in the middle of the Maxi/minimalist scale; he uses some long and some short sentences. Part of this is because of the narrative voice, which is that of a normal woman rather than an intellectual.
  • What are their key characteristics (think about sentence structure, language choice and imagery)?
    KI affects a chatty style in this piece, which means homely imagery based around memories and shared experiences rather than descriptions of people or things and the kind of language that an averagely educated woman in her mid-life would choose. SR’s narrator is more educated and yet looser with his language. There’s lots of stop-start narration and you get the feeling that he is pushed for time and reluctant to speak as if he has somewhere to go and he’s giving an interview to a person he doesn’t particularly like.
  • How would you describe the tone (how close the implied author and/or narrator is to their subject)?
    SR’s narrator is reluctant to speak and so is slightly antagonistic towards his audience. KI’s narrator is trying to be relaxed and to impress her audience with her integrity and poise.
  • What kind of work do these stylistic choices do on behalf of the narrative (how do they shape the subjects of each)?
    Stylistically, the long sentences SR employs give the impression that the narrator is educated and verbose. The sentences KI’s narrator uses are of average length, which gives the impression of a person of average age, interest and education.
  • What kind of relationship do they strike with the reader?
    SR’s relationship with the reader is antagonistic. KI’s narrator is calm, kind and considerate; just like the carer that she is. Starting to repeat stuff due to the inane way these questions are structured.

I don’t got no style as I can put my finger in

A short interview with me about my writing style:

  • What are its defining characteristics and idiosyncrasies?
    I like to think that I think a lot in my writing. I feel and experience things and then I talk about them. The characters I create are mostly me and I express the different aspects of myself through them. The plots I create are mostly about the situations I find myself in, both internally and externally, and how I get out of them. Or resolve them. My style is a mixture of long and short sentences. I tend to use hypotaxis to slow the pace of the story down and parataxis to either to speed things up (in the middle of action-scenes) or to express bleak surroundings (when describing stuff). When I’m writing like this I like to use brackets to indicate extra (often irrelevant) thoughts. When I write formally, I’m copying people who write formally because that’s not my natural style (despite what my tutor thinks). When I write stories I use sub-thoughts when writing in first-person, and straightforward, one-thread narrative when I’m writing in third-person (generally). I haven’t dared to do this in stories that are to be marked/assessed in some way.
  • Where on the maximalism/minimalism spectrum would you place it? (You don’t have to be one or the other. Maybe you are somewhere in-between; or maybe you modulate from one extreme to another.)
    I am somewhere in the middle of the maximalism/minimalism spectrum (MMS). I use one for one effect and the other for another effect. My style is not really defined by an adherence to one or the other. That said, I’ve been influenced by Cormac McCarthy’s minimalist style somewhat.
  • How far is your position on this spectrum the result of your intuitive way of writing, and how far is it consciously suited to the things you are writing about?
    Aw c’mon, this is asking the same question in three different ways. See above already!

Here’s a short piece (what I just wrote) that I think is representative of my writing style (not):

Just to get things clear from the get-go, I’m a woman. Don’t be fooled by names. I’m as woman as a woman ever could be. I got the equipment and that’s all I guess I needs for me to be qualifying. Here’s what happened to woman today.

I went to the shops. There are two of them hereabouts. One is a piddly little ghostery store what sells canned goods and chewing tobacco. The other is a place you can buy hardware like dog-shoes (fit your own), pit-diggers, warpoons and other essentials for living in Poltreak.

I’d like to tell you what I saw on the way back from the shops, but implant don’t allow. I just know I was overloaded. So that’s that. Implant says that I should get on with peeling the lips offa these radicals now so that’s what I’m gonna do. It’s not for a quiet life. It’s for a life. You get me?

I done. He’s sleeping now and so I can write some more.

I just ate and my belly is swelling with the process. Gas and bubble. Fermentation I think it’s called. Yeah, like narco-jice and stuff like that. It’s the only way we can get the growth around here to break down and fix up enough to give us some goodness. We was all genetically modulated to be able to do that. Cheaper than a funeral.

The radicals get caught easy. We set a trap and they fall in. Simple as. The skinning is messy, and the lips have to come off last otherwise the seal gets brok. Think of fizzy narco-jice. Tastes bad flat. Same thing.

I could kill him. My master that is. Cutting one of the ties to his cot’d do it. It’d tip him to the floor and he’d just explode. They say to bind the middle-section but he don’t on account of that little problem he got. Leastwise, that’s what he tells the look-glass. He’s vain, though. He don’t want to …

He’s coming. Later.

He’s had his way. Guess that’s another prog I’ll have to bear him. Regular as the moons he comes. Five cycles and on. Five and off. I can’t see what I can do. He’s got all the papers. He’s flitch and I’m flatch and that’s all there is to it. Might as well not bother being bothered. That’s all.

When the rockets come back it’ll change again. When the radicals pull free we can all pull free. I’m woman so I’ll get to say my piece too. Not just yet though. Not yet. Gotta fetch me a flame and I’ll burn this now. Good to get it out but safer this way. Gotta be safe.


Orbital-sub-station-alpha. Log 019450. Monitor automata report rogue elements still active. Recommend quarantine continuation. Transmit.