A Question of Style
By Kathy McNarie
I'm not my story. But am I my style?
It's true. A writer is not his story.
Sometimes that's a hard thing to realize. When you get critique, you're
always told to take the good advice and ignore the bad. It's difficult, but
you have to remind yourself, "They are not critiquing me."
A story is a story, and while I feel about
mine as a mother would about her children, they are not me. When critters
suggest that I do something -- move a sentence to a different place, or add
a comma, or even break a paragraph for better pacing -- I know they're
offering enhancements. Just like the Sylvan Learning Center, a way to get
help for your kid. I can see this. This is good.
However, where I have trouble is when
people critique style. Up to now, I've been handing out my work to any
fellow writer who will read it and following most advice -- at least the
parts I agree with. But because I'm not sure what my style is, I let people
influence me in so many different ways, both good and bad. To make a
parallel, it's a bit like going to one of those beauty make-over places.
Critters (or beauty experts) offer tried and true methods for dressing me up
to look like a movie star. As I contemplate my reflection, I realize that
in some ways I actually am beautiful. But in other ways, I merely look like
a cheap imitation of a celebrity. There's nothing left of my uniqueness.
This person I see in the mirror isn't me. I'm not flashy, nor beautiful.
Nor am I flowing with grace and flair. I am merely me. And what's more,
this movie star façade is an illusion that will be impossible to maintain
without constant advice from others. I can't even get my hair to look the
same as it does when my favorite stylist fixes it. How can I expect to keep
up with all these other things?
I think I see the problem. I've been
trying to win beauty contests with this 5'2", plain, "made over into someone
else's version of great" body. That's not what I intended to showcase,
because I shine the most when people get to know me. Let's take that idea
further. It does no good putting night cream on my face and cucumbers on my
eyes. Nor does it do any good starving myself to have a teeny-weeny little
waist. Even if I accomplish these beautifications, I have neither the
height nor the grace to be a model. So, what's the answer? I need to let
the inner me show. I must wow you with the depth of my emotions, the
strength of my determination, and the glow of my personality.
Okay, let's apply that back to writing.
That means I must create characters you fall in love with, root for, or
hate. That means I must use my preference for person and tense, no matter
how many people say it's not what sells, because it's an integral part of
how I write. And mostly, that means I must show exactly what my characters
go through and how they feel about it. Anyone can come up with a story. A
good writer takes you on a journey.
So, that's what I will do. But what do you
do about those critters that continually go after your style? You know
them. They're the ones that have critiqued five pieces of your work and the
most important thing they've said is that they didn’t care for your use of
first person. Is it a personal attack? It sure feels like it. Ahhhh... I
think I get it. This is the part of critique you ignore, right?