9/20/2015 8:22 AM
I wanted to jot down some notes on my current writing style. I believe that writing style is important. When I read older works by great authors, it is hard to get through them because the writing style, that was common at the time they were written, gets in the way of my enjoyment.
I decided to give my style a name. I call it “Stark Style”.
[Note: I reserve the right to adjust this at any time ]
No back story (or as little as possible)
This is the most important element of Stark Style. Backstory, in this context, is anything about any element of the story that conveys information to provide a better understanding of the element… outside of the main narrative. Backstory interrupts the main narrative because it steps outside of it. This is always a bad thing because it pulls the reader out of the story. Any important information that I want to reveal is best done through dialogue or as a flashback (I plan to cover flashbacks in another post. In my thinking they take over the main narrative not interrupt it).
The biggest problem with backstory is that 99% of the time it really is not important. For example, while it helps us understand why a character may be afraid of fire, it is only relevant if we need to explain an unusual aversion to it. If a character has to run into a burning building to save a baby, the backstory about how he was trapped in a fire as a kid is just not important. Just have the character run into the building and save the baby. However, if before he runs in, we have a flashback to a time when he did not run into a building and then had to see the burned dead bodies, this would be relevant to the scene. In that case we reveal this as a flashback. If something is not important enough for even a flashback it is not important enough to be included.
Information that we would normally put in backstory can be placed inside the main narrative. For example:
“She looked at the schoolgirls across the yard. She has always been the unpopular one, always being teased. The popular girls could smell her fear a mile away, and time after time they would tease her and make her life hell.”
Can be replaced with:
“While she had never met them, she recognized the schoolgirls across the yard, the popular ones who always teased her and made her life hell.”
The important cut is not just in words, but to not convey a story about her past that is not part of the current story and is not important. What is important is that the main character is someone who has been teased. This explains her motivation throughout the rest of the story (she will be fearful of being hurt by popular people).
Motivation is very important…
Every character has a motivation and therefore everything that happens is a result of a motivation
When proper motivation is established, a lot of explanation is no longer necessary. Show the husband walk into the house and find his wife beaten up. Then he hears a sound in the back of the house and on investigating it, sees a man climbing out the rear window. The husband grabs a baseball bat and chases the man.
No explanation or backstory is needed. Whenever possible I want to use the reader’s own perspective, prejudices, and fears to fill in the missing elements. Motivation works when the reader’s own beliefs and experience provides the explanation for the characters actions.
Always have a mystery never tell the reader exactly what's going to happen
In the above example, we don’t have to have any dialog where the husband tells the wife he is going to grab a baseball bat and beat the guy who assaulted her. Just let the scene play out. Describing something that is about to happen that actually happens is a sort of “future backstory” and unnecessary. It causes the reader to want to skip ahead.
All dialogue has subtext
In the “real world” people rarely mean what they say. Context, the situation or circumstances surrounding speech, is the most important thing in trying to understand what someone is trying to communicate. This is subtext. I want my dialogue to convey subtext so that it is succinct yet effective. I try to do this by setting up and conveying the context of the speech though character development. This means the reader understands my character’s perspective and motivations (that I conveyed through the minimal backstory).
I convey the actual meaning of the communication through visual cues and what is not said.
All narrative description is directly related to the development of the main character of the current scene
There are a lot of opportunities to provide extended narrative description for characters who are not the main character of the current scene. This is a waste of the readers time. However, every scene does have a main character. The ‘main character’ can be a ‘thing’, such as a power box that is submerged in water and shorts out. In this example, all narrative description would be related only to the power box. The technician that walks by and neglects to check it does not need his clothes described, a name or anything else unless it is somehow important.
Every scene, paragraph and word has a reason for being included
This seems obvious but it is not. It is hard, but I want to cut every scene, paragraph and word that is not somehow important.