discussions writing & publishing

Kurt Vonnegut On Writing With Style

How to write with style, an essay by a guy who knew what he was talking about. It’s a fascinating read, although I don’t agree with everything he says.

Newspaper reporters and technical writers are trained to reveal almost nothing about themselves in their writings. This makes them freaks in the world of writers, since almost all of the other ink-stained wretches in that world reveal a lot about themselves to readers. We call these revelations, accidental and intentional, elements of style.

These revelations tell us as readers what sort of person it is with whom we are spending time. Does the writer sound ignorant or informed, stupid or bright, crooked or honest, humorless or playful– ? And on and on.

Why should you examine your writing style with the idea of improving it? Do so as a mark of respect for your readers, whatever you’re writing. If you scribble your thoughts any which way, your readers will surely feel that you care nothing about them. They will mark you down as an egomaniac or a chowderhead — or, worse, they will stop reading you.

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

3 replies on “Kurt Vonnegut On Writing With Style”

How far does reading stuff like this make you want to experiment with your own style of writing? Was there anything specifically you disagreed with in Vonnegut’s essay?

(I read Nights of Villjamur a month or so back and loved it; can’t wait for City of Ruin!!)

Hey, Crow.

I’m kind of settled into what I do now, so not so much in the way of experimenting. I’m at the start of a book now, so sometimes it’s good to remember why you do things. When you’re starting out, there’s loads of such essays that can really inspire – I remember being really obsessed with whatever Hemingway did for a good while. And I think that’s the important thing – to get motivated to write, and write well. Each writer is different; you do what you have to do.

I think the main point I didn’t fully buy in to was the simplicity aspect – sometimes there is beauty to be found in complexity, Chaos mathematics aside: Mervyn Peak to Hal Duncan, there’s a history of wonderfully archaic and experimental prose. But I can certainly understand the need for simplicity sometimes; so maybe I don’t disagree after all.

And thanks!

My take on experimenting and complexity.

There are four main elements to fiction writing:

– plot (the events of the story and how they unfold)
– structure (the order in which you lay out the plot – linear, flashback, reverse, etc.)
– content (what the story is about – theme, setting, characters, mood, motive)
– style (your literary voice)

You can be experimental in any one of these, at the most two, and still have a book people will be able to follow and enjoy, but once you try experimenting with three or four at once, the balls all fall out of the air and it becomes a complete mess. On the other hand, if you don’t try to do something different with at least one, you’re likely to be dull as dishwater.

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