I just recently bought a new used iPhone (AT&T can’t get me) and found myself in the midst of the ongoing smart phone discussion between form and function. iPhone, it is argued, dominates form, while the various incarnations of Blackberry take the cake for function. As a potential consumer, I ventured into the smart phone waters interested first in function, and yet I came away with an iPhone. Why? Form matters. Form is seductive and alluring, fun and exciting. Form is so promising.
I have also been struggling with defining the style of my most recent writing project. Having written and rewritten my novel, Blood Vines, the story feels complete and in place, and yet the style is far from anchored or consistent. Because of this, the text lists around in my mind as I keep repeating the story in different accents wondering all the while which sounds best.
I have heard repeatedly that story comes first, second and third when it comes to writing fiction. Write good story. I have done that. Honestly, I don’t think anyone cares. Story feels enslaved to style in today’s writing market. Is my story a southern gothic, steampunk, a supernatural thriller or a spaghetti western? I don’t know, and worst, I can’t decide. I have even wondered if I should throw in a vampire or zombie.
I don’t even know what I had originally set out to write anymore, because it has become totally clouded by questions of what will sell. What sort of key words and meta-tags will need to be associated with my book? What genres will agents give a second look? What are readers today really interested in? Where is the market maybe a little soft? How will my book be classified on Amazon, or where will it be stocked at Barnes and Noble?
Who is driving this? Readers, publishers, agents or writers looking for big bucks? Probably a little of column A, B, C and D.
Obviously, there is serious importance rolled up in what sort of style a novel takes on. I am convinced that as an author I need to solidly know in what manner my characters will tell the story they tell. Will my characters by romantic, surreal or tragic? What sort of exposure or overexposure will my readers expect and/or tolerate? Will violence be filled with moral ramifications or for entertainment purposes? Will the end contain hope, and if so, to what extent. But surprisingly, my story changes very little according to which of these paths I choose. Ultimately the story is the same, but the style is what tells the reader how to interpret the story. Hopeful or jaded can be communicated via the same story depending on the style of the telling.
What a joy it would be as a writer to let readers determine there own interpretation of a great story, to be challenged according to their own worldview. As a writer I am O.K. with being mercilessly driven by the style of my story. After all, I have chosen it. Certainly I should obey it. Unfortunately, I feel compelled by commercial forces to be ever so clear from the beginning about how my novel should be read. To sell my story, it seems the style must come first and speak loudest. But what if my story would have found great affection from readers not into my declared style? Thus returns my anxiety about declaring the right one. Maybe I could include a necrophiliac, ambulance driver who talks to the ghost of a Southern vampire.
For more on the topic of style and genre, check out this great post at Wordplay.