What I Read About When I Read

A friend came over a few nights ago for nothing more than chats and catching up. I enjoy conversation with no fixed topic, and certain people - whether through a natural affinity between you, or shared experiences / interests, or adventures to be retold - are more interesting than others as time goes on. Perhaps that's ungenerous to some, but it's true and it's honest. 

Conversation on this occasion was excellent, and it's left me thinking about one thing - the habits of a writer, and repetition over various books. 

In this case, it's Haruki Murakami. Both fans of his work, my friend and I often find him coming up as we talk. In this case it led to a particular list, of things he has in all his books - of, in a way, unoriginal memes that identify a book as Murakami's. A loner man, a promiscuous girl, drinking beer from a bottle, detailed cooking scenes, ears - the list goes on and anyone who reads his work will recognize that these are more than just themes; they are his trademarks. The word 'iconic' was used, but I'm not sure about that one yet. 

Frog Continues
Clever, friendly Starky's blog - well worth a read

So does it apply to words, too? Certain writers just like certain words better. I know I overused 'chuckle', for instance.  And there's style. The Guardian books section has done a wonderful job at times of aping the writing of known authors for parody. Alexander McCall Smith got one, and it really was instantly recognizable as his writing - except, of course, that it wasn't. 

A good stylist can copy another writer like a good painter can paint in the style of a known master - Picasso or Van Gogh or whoever. 

Tags, like in street art, get known, and they become your own. Even word order, or chapter arrangement, if copied over more than one book, can become representative of the most elusive thing in writing - your voice. 

There's a lot of talking about finding your voice as a writer, though I'm not sure that's quite bang on. Perhaps it should be about using your voice - in being comfortable enough to ignore convention and grammar and good usage, as long as it's deliberate, for the sake of the story you have to tell. 

Once I'd written several books, I saw my own little tics. Things I did over and over (some good, some bad), things I'd copied from other writers (switching 'said' to be before or after the speaker's name, for example, I saw well used by Philip Pullman), things I was just doing wrong...

They all add up to make something recognizably yours.

Maybe I'll put dream sequences in all my books. Maybe I'll always use the word 'mote.' I just hope that above all I'll let the story get told, and that it'll be a good one.


  1. "I just hope that above all I'll let the story get told, and that it'll be a good one." Agreed!

    Articles are always popping up about how to "find your voice." I have a feeling it's one of those things that just emerges with time... And I like this idea of "using" your voice instead of "finding" it. There might be something to that.

    The Feather and the Rose: A bizarre adaptation inspires a movie review.

  2. I agree with Susan. Sometimes "finding" your voice ends up being trying too hard to develop one--and a forced voice never makes for good writing. I believe in using your voice in the same way as using your natural speaking voice. Just let it flow and great things will come of it!

  3. Agreed - forced voice is worse than unpolished. I think it often comes from trying to sound like another writer (one you love?) and so it's unnatural, if a compliment. But where is the line between settling for an unfinished, amateur voice, and not pushing yourself into a dishonest portrayal of your story?

  4. Through writing for this competition with Key Note Books, I realized something. I myself am not confident in my own writing. I'm more confident in my 'ideas', but not my writing. Learning learning learning!

  5. Oh harro again, Cleb! Know what you mean about ideas, but I think that's the problem for most people. It's why not everyone becomes a writer - the transition from fuzzy ideas and inspiration to actual plots and workable writing is the bit that takes dedication and puts people off. The old thing about starting a book not being the same as finishing a book.