Is it just a question of style?

You know, I started really noticing writing and all its variances as a sophomore in high school in Mr. Dills’ English class. He presented all sorts of rules on grammar and writing (I think I learned to use the em dash in his class) as well as organization of your argument, etc.

I’ve come some way since then–I was an English Literature major as an undergrad, went to law school (which REALLY honed my persuasive writing skills), worked for seven years as a grant writer, and have written several novels, lots of flash, and even a short story (though I usually don’t like the genre because I just start to like a character and then the story is done!)

What’s my point in all this ramble? It’s that sometimes I wonder if all the do’s and don’ts described in various classes/books/blogs/sites/magazines on writing should occasionally be ignored. Because here’s my thought: writing style changes from era to era, from culture to culture, and what’s en vogue in the mid-eighteen hundreds, would be tossed aside with disdain by publishers if someone wrote that way now. Omniscient narrator going on and on with back-history of the French Revolution and his opinions on the French in general before we’ve even met the main character? And what about that sentence that goes on for 10 lines with about a thousand commas? I don’t think Mr. Dills would have approved of that in my essays.

(Yes, that was our beloved Dickens. I never could get through Tale of Two Cities, though I loved Great Expectations).

I’ve never read any James Patterson, but I imagine his best-selling, action-packed novels don’t start with a 10 line sentence and continue with a bunch of backstory on the state of mind of entire nations. And what would have audiences in Dickens’ times have thought of Patterson?

Anyhoot. I am setting up a little test here to see which people like better. Just a short scene, but written in two different styles.

Sample 1

Slipping down the bank of loose shale, Chasandra couldn’t help but think the rocks that clattered and leapt around her looked a lot like the kernels of dried corn she loved to put over the fire and roast. At first, they’d just slid smoothly over each other, but now that she’d picked up speed, they were just like the exploding grains, ricocheting all around her in a frenzy. But unlike her beloved popped corn, the shale was wickedly sharp and could knock her off her feet; if she went down, she might not get up again.

“What in the great green earth are you doing? Chas!”

She heard her brother shouting from above, but couldn’t respond; she could scarcely draw breath. Her heart pounded and the adrenaline pumping through her made her ears ring.

“If I can just…” she muttered fiercely to herself, shaking her honey-blond hair out of her face and shifting her weight on the slim piece of wood she’d strapped to her feet. She leaned hard and changed directions in that torrent of stone. The clatter of the tumbling rocks nearly drown out Rindel’s next words.

“Not without me, you don’t!”

Taking a quick glance back, she saw her twin leap over the edge of the sloping bluff. Immediately, he lost his balance and stumbled in the deep layer of lose shale.

Sample 2

Chasandra slipped down the bank as shale clattered and leapt around her like the kernels of dried corn put over the fire and roasted. At first, the stone’s had slid over each other, but now that she’d picked up speed, they were ricocheting all around her, though much sharper than popped grains; if she went down, she might not get up again.

“What in the great green earth are you doing? Chas!”

Her brother was shouting from above, but she couldn’t respond. She gasped and her heart pounded; the adrenaline pumping through her made her ears ring.

“If I can just…” she muttered, shifting her weight on the piece of wood she’d strapped to her feet, her hair whipping across her face as she changed directions. The clatter of the rocks dimmed Rindel’s next words.

“Not without me, you don’t!”

She glanced back as her twin leapt over the edge of the bluff. At once, he lost his balance in the shale.

Do you notice a difference? Which do you like better and why? When you write, do you axe your adjectives and adverbs relentlessly, or do you sprinkle them in liberally?

4 thoughts on “Is it just a question of style?

  1. I like sample #2. Admittedly I read each only once with Marigold Hotel running not too far in the background, but my quick take is that sample one is adjective driven and the second verb driven, but it’s late and may have missed the mark!

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s no missing the mark here, Sandy. Just curious about what people like, and why. I think #2 is a faster paced read, but #1 gives me more of a feel for really being there because adjectives add details that verbs sometimes can’t.

      Like

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