Before The Title Past

By Nancy Marie


Hello All,

I promised y'all something different this month, so this month we're going to talk about why writers write and why they write what they do. To begin with, let's get the easy ones out of the way. Writers, some writers, write for fame and riches. That seems to be pretty self-explanatory. However, the majority of writers write for many other reasons. Some writers have a message, a strong belief in something, that they want to communicate to others. Some writers just like to tell stories. And, then there's writers like me, who need a creative outlet, and who can not function without it. In other words, I can not not write. Call it the beckoning of the creative muses, call it obsessive/compulsive behavior, call it whatever you want, the bottom line is I can not not write. The stories, the ideas, the plots, the characters have to be released. However, it's the words that offer the most challenge, and are sometimes the reason why writers write what they do.

It's often been said that the English language is one of the hardest languages to learn. It is convoluted, complicated, and confusing to English as a Second Language (ESL) students. It is also one of the most rewarding and challenging aspects of being a writer. There is always a better word, a better phrase, a better way to structure a sentence and there-in lies the challenge. It is a challenge that most writers willingly undertake. However, there-in also lies the problem and the reason why writers write what they do.

Recently, one of my daughters began reading Mercedes Lackey's newest book in the Chronicles of Valdemar series. She called me up one night and said, "Mom, I just can't get into this book. She's (the author) changed her writing style or something, and it just doesn't read the same as her other ones."

Her comment clearly points out a trend, or a habit, or a problem, (what you call it depends mostly on your point of view), that established writers face once they have overcome the other challenges of getting published and establishing a following of readers. There are no more challenges left except for the use of words, or style, if you prefer.

Writers are just like anyone else, they can and do get bored with their work. They've already learned all the basics of writing, already proven their skill at mastering the techniques of story-telling, dialogue, character development, and plot structuring. So what's left to learn and to master? The English language, and fortunately, for most writers, the English language offers an unending supply of fresh new challenges to tackle.

It kind of works like this: you are a writer. You've sold half a dozen or so books with a similar style. They've sold well and now you are preparing to write a new book. You think about it, a lot. Then you realize that you just don't want to write it the same old way. You're bored because you've already mastered the basic techniques and skills. You want a new challenge, something different, something better. So, you start changing your style. You start changing the way you use the English language. You add more metaphors, more descriptive passages, and your word choices become a little more sophisticated. What you end up with is not only a change of style but a change of voice.

Voice is the way a writer's words express what the writer wants to say. Almost every successful writer has a clear, distinctive voice. Have you ever heard or read a passage from a book and thought to yourself, "Jeeze, I bet that was written by so-and-so. It sounds just like their work." When that happens you have identified the writer by their voice.
When I think of writers who have changed their voice or style, Stephen King comes immediately to mind. The first book of his that I ever read was Carrie. I continued to read many of his novels, and then quit, because they were all too similar. Some years later, I picked up his latest offering, The Tommyknockers. Boy was I surprised. His style, his voice, had significantly changed. Unfortunately, I didn't care for his new style. In my book, he was now just too wordy.

But, here-in, lies the problem. As a writer, you can just stick to one style, one voice, and never change it, and thus keep the loyalty of your long-time fans. (Dean Koontz is a good example of this. I can open one of his latest books, read the first chapter, and know exactly how it is going to end. I quit reading his works, years ago, for this very reason.) Or, you can change your style or voice, and risk losing your existing following. Or, you might gain new followers and not lose the old ones. A feat Stephen King has so successfully accomplished.

On the other hand, writers have a third choice, and that is to branch out into new genres. One of my favorite authors is Anne McCaffrey. She has established herself as a writer in the fields of Science Fiction and Fantasy, and sometimes even blends the two genres. However, she did not change her voice or style, and I can almost always spot her work simply from the way she uses the English language.

As for myself, after writing six novels, I also wanted a new challenge so I undertook to write my first non-fiction book. I am pleased with the results, now I just have to wait and see if the publishers will be as accepting of my first venture into this new field.

There you have it. The reasons why writers write and they reasons why writers write what they do. I hope it gives you a basic understanding why some of your favorite authors may suddenly change their style or voice, and I hope that you will have patience with them as they undergo this learning and changing process. Writers, after all, are just plain ole' folks, trying to make a living and trying to keep their work as interesting as possible.

Smiles and blessings, Nancy Marie

2002 Past Columns - Nancy Marie / Jeff Shelby

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