Authors: How Can Style Influence Your Writing Process? Does It?

When your mental gears are driving your writing process.... is  style a factor in how they turn?

When your mental gears are driving your writing process…. is style a factor in how they turn?

Today I got to thinking about my simple, “bare bones” style and how it influences the process through which I write (or maybe vice-versa). Can the WAY we string our words together influence HOW we go about organizing the writing process?

I got to comparing my writing process with what I know about a good friend and the way he writes fiction, and the results shocked me a bit.

You know if you visit here regularly that I like to place authors, stylistically, on a style spectrum with Hemingway marking one end and Faulkner the other.

Faulkners love complex, ornate, and descriptive prose. Hemingways, like me, write for clarity and conciseness. (Neither way’s better. They’re just different.)

MY “HEMINGWAY” TENDENCIES: FOCUSING ON CHARACTER AND PLOT DEVELOPMENTย 

My writer friend (let’s call him Ben) and I are total opposites when it comes to both style and process. He’s a Faulkner and a planner (uses detailed outlines.) I’m a Hemingway and I love to “wing it.”

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Since I write without an outline, I have to throw lots of attention on character and plot development as I advance step by step and chapter by chapter through a draft.

I’m always wondering, “Who is this person really?” “What should happen next?” “How can I connect this subplot with another or bring it to a close?” I never really considered how that process connects with my style, but I think it does.

My simple style, plain sentence structure, and lack of experimental tendencies allow me to focus on character and plot, which I’m in the process of hashing out as I write.

Basically, I couldn’t worry about metaphors and crazy-long sentences while also trying to develop the simplest details of my story.

I love reading, so I write as though I’m a reader of my story. I learn what happens as it happens. That’s a thrill for me, and my favorite aspect of writing fiction. I had never considered before how writing like a Hemingway contributes to success from such a loose and fluid process.

OUTLINE, OUTLINE, OUTLINE: GET PLOT OUT OF THE WAY SO YOU CAN FOCUS ON STYLE

I love reading Ben’s work because he does things with language I could never do. He takes description to a metaphorical level. His characters have brilliant and thought-provoking philosophical contemplations.

In short, I love Ben’s “Faulkner” tendencies. Is it a coincidence that Ben is also a planner, unlike me?

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I honestly don’t know. I’ve never asked Ben about that. But it makes sense to me to lay the situation out like this:

  • I know Ben outlines, and heavily. He definitely has told me he gets his plots and subplots squared solidly away before he writes.
  • I could never come up with the metaphors, descriptions, and layers-deep/extended comparisons Ben is able to write, though they feel effortless when I read them.
  • Maybe getting plot and character “out of the way” before writing (via his outline) allows Ben to focus on his style while he’s writing to a greater extent than I do.
  • Maybe focusing on style allows him to make such effective use of figurative language, in contrast to me.

DOES ANY OF THIS MATTER?

Maybe not. And I don’t mean to imply that all Faulkners are planners or that no Hemingways use outlines. But I still thought this comparison between Ben and me was interesting.

If nothing else, it provides fodder for thought before I tinker or experiment with my writing process.

It reminds me to contemplate how those changes to my process might affect my style, either by facilitating or throwing a wrench in my chances of getting the most out of my natural stylistic tendencies.

Do you find any connection between your style and how you go about organizing (or not organizing) your writing process? What do you think about this comparison?

If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy the other posts I’ve written about narration and style.

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49 responses to “Authors: How Can Style Influence Your Writing Process? Does It?

  1. Funnily enough I consider myself like you, a hemmingway, and up until this very day, I was a pantster, and not an outliner. Unfortunately I think most of that was because I have severe OCD and something about outlining triggers it into a loop of never ending and frustrating attempts at perfection. Then today, I decided to outline (not 10 minutes ago I posted about it!) I guess we’ll see if my style of writing changes along with my outlining ๐Ÿ™‚ Experiment in the making!

  2. I tried to write with a vague outline, developing the plot and characters in my head as I went (which I still do, but to a lesser extent), but found it really hard to make the language sound the way I wanted it to sound, and describe things the way I felt it would be described best, while also having to figure out what exactly happened next.

    Eventually, I wrote a chapter-by-chapter breakdown, and I was much more satisfied with my writing style in this way. I’m definitely more of a Faulkner, and I absolutely need a (flexible, perhaps) plan.

    • Yea, hahaha! Glad you could support my theory ๐Ÿ˜› Love what you say about flexibility: outline or no outline, flexibility is so key.

      You never know when the muse is going to strike or a character is going to whisper in your ear and change things up on you!

  3. This is very interesting! I am exactly like you, Hemingway/winger, but maybe I will try an outline for my next piece of writing and see what happens! Could be very interesting ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I tried one once, for NaNoWriMo last year. It worked for me and helped me write faster.

      I kept it vaguer than some probably would, and just “winged” my way through the outline rather than the draft. It was a great experiment. I’ probably won’t go back to one, but I’d recommend trying it if you’ve never used one. You never know how you might like it!

  4. I think you’re onto something. I do a lot of planning and thinking before I write. It’s to the point where I have the characters and story partially locked before I type the first word. I don’t worry too much about the characters since they naturally flow at this point. This does give me more time to focus on the flourishing of words that I use.

    • that’s cool, Charles! yea for more support for my theory ๐Ÿ™‚

      It made sense to think the more you have characters and plot ready to go, the more you can concentrate on style and wording and flourishes.

      I seriously love how so many people write so differently…. I’d just never considered the reasons behind we choose our personal styles and processes

      • It keeps the literary world on its toes and exciting. You never know exactly what you’re going to get until you read the first page.

        • That is so true! Some of my favorite writers have vastly different styles…. though I tend to appreciate in all aspects of life people who can pull off things I’m not gifted to do. So I like really witty writers (like Douglas Adams, Mark Twain, etc)

        • I get drawn to world builders like Tolkien, Lewis, and John Flanagan. I think that’s why I love writing. The ability to create worlds and characters, which might be why I go for more of a Faulkner style. There’s so many senses that you have to hit with a description to bring your world across that I feel like I need to push the descriptive boundaries.

        • That makes perfect sense to me. I LOVE Tolkien and Lewis. They are truly amazing. You can’t possibly overstate the influence of Tolkien on fantasy fiction.

        • He truly is the progenitor of the genre as it is today. It’s nearly impossible to write fantasy without something connecting to him.

  5. I try to use outlines but quite often I don’t actually follow them because as I’m going along I’ll have some experience or hear some story that influences my storyline. That’s probably why my novel has turned into a trilogy. I’m still following my original outline, but it’s been largely expanded. As far as Hemingway and Faulkner go, I’d say I’m somewhere in between.

    • I always say it’s so important to be fluid in following your outline. So I definitely can relate to what you say here…. I’ve had lots of unexpected twists and turns enter into my novels. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Outlining greatly affects my writing in the sense that it provides a smoother story.
    I’ve attempted writing without an outline and it seemed to be very… logical. Weird, right? But writing logically isn’t always FUN within a fictional setting.
    I mean, think about this way–if you were reading a book about the zombie apocalypse, would you want your characters to play it safe and find food, ammunition, water, etc… OR would you rather they attempt the logical and make a mistake along the way, thus creating a much richer and interesting experience?
    An outline ultimately achieves this (in my experience anyway). I don’t think I’ll ever be able to write another story without one.

    • that’s so funny…. for me, I get too logical trying to outline and lay it all out. when I write organically, I find that in my personal case, the twists and turns and mistakes throw themselves in there on their own because I don’t overthink in a logical way when I write.

      Just goes to show how different strategies work to help different people achieve a real-life feel and flow to their novels!

  7. Great post as usual. I’m a pantser for the most part–except with my current WiP. I’m writing from an outline for the first time. Already, I’m feeling a bit chafed. ๐Ÿ™‚ I can’t say I’m a total Hemingway or a Faulkner. I’m probably somewhere inbetween.

    • I think most people fall somewhere in between, a bit closer to one side than the other. I outlined once, and while it helped me write fast during NaNoWriMo, putting it together was really stressful!

  8. I think it’s good to try being the Faulkner and the Hemingway both, even if just to change it up a bit. I find for short stories it’s usually better for me to be a Hemingway. But for the long novels or even little novelettes I must get back to Faulkner ways. I think trying out both methods helps you understand why you write the way you do. Why must I put together an outline? Because after awhile I start to feel an anxiety about “where is this story going?” I need to figure it out before I write it.

    But on the other side of it, with a short story, if I try and outline it I either end up with a novel or no ideas. Sometimes one must just sit down and let words spill out. Maybe the short story will turn into a novel later. Maybe not. But I do like what trying out both worlds of writing brings me as a writer.

    I think you touched on an important point and that is figure out what kind of writer we are and how we work best and then create those environments for ourselves when we’re ready to get creative.

  9. Since I do both outlining and pantsting does that make me a Faulkingway? Hmm.. I may have just offended someone with that word. sorry.

  10. I usually start with a loose outline about what I want to write and how I want to write it, but when I sit down at the computer I just let the story unfold as it will. I use a lot of character development and wordplay too, but that comes from the character as I get into his or her head and tell the story in their voice. So maybe I’m a hybrid. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • That makes sense. I imagine lots of people use fluid, flexible outlines that way. Maybe an outline of a type that doesn’t delve fully into plot or just includes a really rough sketch of what might happen, or is a map. A hybrid…. I like that way of looking at it! ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. You come up with interesting topics that make me think. I’ve just written 500 words on this one but I won’t bore you with all of it; just the last paragraph.

    Some people have a writing style which is unique and consistent and comes to identify them, if theyโ€™re writers, and their books are good enough, and they sell and people read them. And I suspect that, for most of us, this is what the concept of style has come to mean. But I am not a writer, writing for other people, so I write as the mood takes me โ€“ in long convoluted sentences (like Faulkner) โ€“ or in short, sharp jabs, like Beckett. Thatโ€™s my style. And if I had to come up with a word for it, I guess “eclectic” would do.

    • Nice thought there! It’s a fantastic point that not every writer becomes known for his or her style a la Faulkner, Hemingway, Wilde, or Beckett. Most people are eclectic in some form or fashion…. especially when comparing different forms of writing they have to write.

      I’m glad you find the topics I write about thought-provoking! I’m not sure where most of them come from. Generally a question that I find an answer to by writing a post.

  12. All those personality and career assesments I’ve ever taken I’m always right in the middle. With this Faulkner/Hemingway scale I am right in the middle as well. I need an outline, but I also need to be able to pants it.

    I’ve finally found the happy medium where I flow the best. I need to develop my characters a ton and let the idea marinate in my mind for a good bit of time. Then I just pose situation and question for each scene (found this idea somewhere). That way I know what needs to be answered and I can pick how I want to do it. Before I sit down to write I kind of sketch it out a bit to have a map for myself. Then I go crazy with pantsing (now I have an urge to pants someone).. I even see the same middle of the road with my writing style.

    I second Jae’s suggestion about trying out both styles. It certainly helped me hone what works for me.

    • Trying out both styles makes a lot of sense: I’m glad Jae said that and you second her opinion. For me, trying to be fluffy and ornate just kills me inside and winds up with horrible results ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s so difficult for me I’ve learned it’s not worth the time, and I know that now…. So I’ve discovered I’m a Hemingway.

      Absolutely nothing wrong with being in the middle, either. I do some minor pre-writing work before jumping into a first draft, and that’s technically an outline too (even if it isn’t a solid, traditional one)

  13. I am currently trying out different styles and trying to see what works best. I found that a too detailed plan meant i lost the drive and excitement. I love to write freely and edit after so I am finding that I write a scene or a chapter of a story idea then I do a very rough plan, mind-mapping ideas.

    I also find writing both short stories and flash fiction helpful and I know my poetry writing helps me develop too.

    • Thanks for sharing your insight! I found the same thing about me when I planned too much: the fun and the drive were gone. I knew what would happen and writing became work.

      I really need to try my hand at flash fiction. And write more poetry. I used to write some poetry and have let it slide…. I never really considered the impact it could have on my fiction, but it definitely could help me find my center and improve my writing chops ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. Pingback: The Secret Reason Every Author Approaches Writing Differently | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

  15. Pingback: AUTHORS: Trouble with a draft? When is it time to rethink your approach to a novel? | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

  16. This is an interesting idea/connection.

    For me, I usually jump in without any planning. (If I’m building a world, I’ll write world notes that have little to do with the plot of my story.)

    And I’m a Hemmingway. I definitely go for minimal description, though I don’t take that to extremes.

  17. I’m with you. I’ve tried outlining my novel in advance and ended up with a bare bones version of checkpoints (book, backstory, trigger, etc.) I need to feel the story as it evolves. Only then will I know where it’s going. Great post. Thank you.

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