Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Monday Musing: A Change In Style

Be warned, this is a top-of-my-head post, so it may end up not making any sense. I know where I’m starting, but I’m really not sure where it’s going to end up, or how it’s going to get there.

There’s a woman in my writers’ group who is legendary among us for two things: first, in 40, 45 minutes of writing time, she can crank out six or seven pages easily. She takes ideas and runs with them, and almost always comes out of the day with fully-formed stories or essays that have a beginning, middle and end. By contrast, I wrote maybe 250 words yesterday, and quite often, my work just sort of ends, incomplete, not satisfying (at least to me).

The second thing she does is she writes lush sentences, sentences full of clauses, dependent and independent; sentences that meander like a lazy river twisting left and right across the valley from which arises the sweet smell of hay in the summer, sentences that are packed with tastes and smells and textures so that you can feel the sun on your face when she describes it, or taste the sweetness of summer strawberries. When she reads her work, it can be a challenge sometimes to follow the thread of the sentence, but the journey is wonderful. My first sentence is a poor attempt at imitating what she can do. She does it much better.

Yesterday, she wrote a story recounting an event that occurred in her childhood, when she was ten years old. It involved girl scouts, an inattentive leader, and a rescue from a pond whose ice wasn’t as thick as thought. What I found interesting (aside from the story, that is, which was quite compelling) was how much she varied from her usual style in the telling. Instead of sentences that stretched and twisted like a python, loaded with sensory input, she wrote short. Her sentences were quick and to the point, stripped of excess verbiage. There was no struggling to follow the thread of the sentence; it was instantly clear, but no less enjoyable.

After she read the piece for us I commented on how different it was from her usual style, and how fitting it was, given the action. She noted how odd–awkward, even–it felt when she read it. A lot of her work is contemplative in nature, but she’s written plenty of other pieces that have action in them, and a lot of those pieces also have her very literary style. This was the first one I really remember, at least in a long time, that’s been quite so…punchy, I guess I would say.

One of the other members of the group suggested the change in style was because this was a story she had relayed verbally many times over the years. Telling a story and writing a story are the same, yet different enough in delivery that it makes sense they’d come out different, and I can certainly see his point. I do wonder, though, if some of it had to do with the fact that she was reaching back into a memory of being ten years old, and as a ten-year-old will see the world very differently from a grown woman. I didn’t think to ask that question yesterday, because it hadn’t occurred to me. I’m not sure if she made a conscious decision to change her style, or if it just came out that way, and if it was the latter, was it because the telling has become somewhat set in stone, or was the product of unconscious adoption of her then-young age. Perhaps I’ll raise the question next week.

I hope that all made sense. Have you ever found your style radically changed for a particular story or piece of writing? Please share!

2 Responses

  1. How interesting. You and the other person could both be write about what changed in her writing style. I'm hope my writing is maturing as I learn more things. I don't know if the style has changed. But if I write a different genre, it might be appropriate. That would be a stretch for me.

  2. I guess my style changes with the type of story I'm writing. Short stories are vastly different than novels. I HAVE to change my style or the story won't be short.

    I'm in awe that woman can write so much in such a short time. When given a prompt, it'll take me that long just to figure out WHAT to write. My brain starts slow. It's why I don't like prompts where you're given 5 minutes to write. Yeah, that ain't happening.

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