As I edit Privilged Lives, I realize that there’s nothing outstanding about the way it’s written. I work for clarity and flow, which I usually manage to achieve, but the style is mundane. Competent, but not outstanding. Maybe that’s appropriate for this type of book. It’s near-future science fiction. But as I read it, I find it unsatisfying. It lacks a spark that I’d like to see in my writing. I think that if I wrote something more literary, the lack of style would show up as a handicap.
Most people won’t notice that the writing is a bit plodding and won’t demand that it be something different, as long as the story itself is interesting enough to hold them. It’s the story that’s most important, of course, and the ideas. A reader who prefers action to ideas will get bored very quickly, but I hope that I’ll eventually have a solid readership of people who want to see new ideas and maybe even be challenged in their thinking.
I don’t know whether style is an area where I should make some real effort. Maybe it will develop over time. Maybe I’m obsessing over something that isn’t very important to readers, just to myself and my vague feeling that my writing should have something more.
This ties in with a little exchange I had with a reader. She likes the way the book is developing: “…because the readers start off with as little information as the characters, but little bits and pieces of what’s happening sneaks in.”
And my reply: “I’d really like to take credit for knowing what I was doing when I wrote those chapters, but you’ve shown me that I didn’t have a clue. I’m just glad it worked. Must be proof of the saying that sometimes readers know more than the writer does.
“The funny thing is that not knowing what you’re doing implies that you’re working instinctively. But I work hard to make sure that everything I write is completely logical. So there’s something going on that I don’t really understand.”
We can talk about the basics of grammar and punctuation, more advanced concepts like character development, point of view, structure and pacing, and we can learn to use them. But there’s a lot about writing fiction that remains mysterious. Some would say it’s inspiration or the muse. But I think those words are more appropriately applied to the invention of a story or a character. Once we have the ideas, how much do we really know about what’s coming out of the keyboard or the pen? How much of what we write comes from an unconscious part of our mind that we’re not even aware of? And are there parts that we’re never going to be able to control?