I was struck by something English author, Mary Stewart, said in an interview conducted not long before her death this year. She states that she had once spent a week laboring over a particular (descriptive) paragraph to get it just right.
This, I can well believe. Her writing is lyrical and lovely—it was her Merlin Trilogy that I first discovered back in the 80’s, and have since re-read many times, that made me sit back and say to myself, I want to be able to write like that…
On the other hand there are those whose writing style is taut, crisp and even minimalist. (I’m in awe of, and respect this, but can’t/wouldn’t enjoy writing it).
I want to believe there is still readership for both styles…or is the more lyrical style now archaic, belonging back in the age of “reading by firelight,” whereas today, everyone reads in nano-bites off their smart phones between bus stops, on coffee breaks and during the kid’s dance class.
Another author I read, Anne Rice, (Vampire Chronicles especially) favours a “lush” prose style, and certainly has a huge following. (Of course she has well-developed and intriguing characters as well.)
Every writer learns early that writing evocative prose does not mean adding in endless adverbs—we’re discussing a poetic style—poetry being the minimal amount of words needed, that with sound and imagery, create an emotional response.
OK. So I threw this question out to writer friends at SF Canada, and it started a lively discussion.
Most confirmed that they can and do enjoy reading stories written in either style, providing the style suits the story.
For author, Eileen Kernaghan, “the setting, the time period and the voice of the character who is telling the story, all help to determine the style.”
Susan Forest , speculative fiction author, reminds us that, “a single work can have both— A Song of Fire and Ice, by George RR Martin gets on with the story, but he also takes the time to place you in his world, with the people. The writing is very lyrical, but he doesn’t sacrifice story.”
Dave Duncan, author of more than forty novels, expresses his opinion that, “…your own style is so much a part of you that anything else will seem faked…if your story flows so smoothly that no reader notices what your style is, well, that’s pretty magical too!”
Matt Hughes, on the other hand (ever ambidextrous :) states that he can suit his style of writing to the material, and the effect he’s trying to create—whether a moody “Bradbury” piece, or hardboiled 1950’s pulp-voiced style.
Noah Chinn, author and “adventurer”, writes that he is,“ a fan of both styles, it depends in part on the intent of the author.” He remarks that he would classify Ray Bradbury as lyrical. “Passages of his just wash over me, evoke images and chills…but sometimes the story is the thing and being more bare-bones is exactly what you need.”
Ira Nayman, humorist extraordinaire, says “Most of my favourite authors use language in wildly entertaining ways” and he adds, “The great thing about the multiplicity of books is that we can enjoy (and learn from) a wide variety of styles of writing…There really are no rules in artistic creation, only what works to entertain.”
Barbara Geiger, who describes herself as, “Writer of dark, redemptive, snarky smut” came up with one of those Aha! insights she’d acquired from colleague Susan Forest after a writer’s session Susan had attended, “The sooner the writer puts their narration in the character’s skull and has the character filtering everything, the reader will be pulled along from start to finish:
There is no description, there is only Point of View.”