Somebody once said that it is good to be a hack. Why? Because hacks write. They have something to say and they say it. Someone also said Charles Dickens was a hack, writing his novels in weekly instalments. But people still love his books.
Is that all it takes? Yes and no.
As time doesn’t stay still, so trends and tastes change. It may have been easier to make a name for a writer in the past. Our advantage is that we build on the classics. Having that reference gives us inspiration and the feeling of standing on the shoulder of our predecessors. For me, there’s no doubt that reading the masters helps, just as it helps to read trashy novels. How come? There is a lesson in both: with the masters, one learns how to write, and with inferior writers one learns what not to do.
There are many other questions to deal with. But most of these are up to personal preference. There is nothing wrong with writing in third person omniscient, if the writing draws the reader into the world he or she create. So many believe that it is a faux pas to ‘tell’ the story instead of ‘showing’ what happens. That can be a helpful rule of thumb, but ‘showing’ doesn’t necessarily make a text more readable. And ‘telling’ may not bore the reader with endless descriptions. Writers have to struggle with ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ but, in the end, it doesn’t make much of a difference, as long as what they write is compelling. In other words, the only real issue is for any writer to find his or her unique voice. And even that is just a word.
What is a ‘voice’?
Composers’ voices are easy to recognize: they work with melody and rhythm, although there are modern composers that make their mark through distort both. For the listeners, it is ‘easier’ to distinguish the emotion in a melodious work, but they may learn to appreciate the weird and wonderful world of distortions. In other words, we may school our ears to value the distortions and disharmony of a less traditional work. At the bottom line, this is how we learn to distinguish between various composers. I believe that this goes for writing too. You learn to recognize the writing styles of assorted authors and get to know what to expect. That’s what you call the writer’s voice. Authors, too, work with rhythm and melody. They form sentences to create a mood. They may ‘cheat’ their readers into expecting a certain outcome, or place clues to make the reader anticipate an event. A rhythm of short sentences may build up suspense. But when an author knows his craft the work is instantly recognizable. The author appears through the words. Through the writing.
We can learn the craft, but that isn’t enough.
Authors make their themes matter. They write with all their passion, humanity, and insight. It doesn’t matter what they write about, if they care. They put everything they have and are into their writing. Subjects can range from soppy to epic, from dystopia to romance, when authors write what they write with conviction.
© HMH, 2018