Authors as guests: Roger Eschbacher and Gary Henry on writing style

I’ve been thinking about writing styles quite a lot, lately. It’s an issue that I am musing about on my own blog.

I find that my response to a book has a lot to do with the writer’s style, and I’ve been trying to break that down. What do I mean by style? Some things are obvious, like using active voice rather than passive, and the vocabulary choices. But other things are harder to pin down — the style differences between, say, Philip K. Dick and Guy Gavriel Kay, for example. If Kay were to write a postapocalyptic novel and Dick were to write a historical fantasy set in an imagined version of the Byzantine Empire, would they “feel” the same?

For help in finding the true meaning of writing style, I asked two friends of mine who are also writers of fantasy — but very different kinds of fantasy and with very different writing styles.

Roger Eschbacher is the author of Dragonfriend: Leonard the Great, Book 1, which is a middle-grade/young adult fantasy adventure story set in the court of King Arthur.

Meanwhile, Gary Henry’s American Goddesses is set in the contemporary American Midwest, and features superheroines and spies as opposed to warlocks and dragons.

Roger EschbacherRoger Eschbacher

Besides Dragonfriend, Roger Eschbacher has also written two children’s books: Road Trip, and Nonsense! He Yelled, both for Dial Books. He is also a professional television animation writer who’s worked for Warner Brothers, Nickelodeon, The Hub, and Cartoon Network. His blog is The Novel Project, and his Twitter handle is @RogerEschbacher.

How would you describe your own writing style?

I would describe my writing style as cinematic. My goal is to describe the action, world and characters in my book in such a way that readers have a movie playing in their head as they read along. I think this comes from two places, the first being that I’m a television animation writer. In animation, one has to fully describe what is happening so that the artists can animate it. Detailed descriptions are required in my “day job.” Second, as a reader I’ve always preferred books written in that style. I love getting lost in the “brain movie” when I’m reading for pleasure. In general, SF/fantasy books tend to be written this way, which is probably why I read this genre almost exclusively.

Are there any authors whose style you admire? Do you try to emulate them?

Dragonfriend cover imageI admire the writing styles of Neil Gaiman, J.R.R.Tolkien, Douglas Adams, J.K. Rowling, and Rick Riordan, to name a few. All of these folks are quite “cinematic” so I suppose that’s the reason why. Of those four, I’d say Tolkien would be the strongest influence. I love his command of the epic tale so much that I find myself rereading LOTR and The Hobbit every couple of years. Oddly enough, I try not to emulate him too closely for fear of coming off as a low-grade copy of a true master.

Are there authors whose writing style you dislike?

Oh, yes.

How important is your writing style to you? Are you happy with your style, or are there aspects of it you try to change during rewriting or editing?

My writing style is very important to me and I am happy with it for the reasons listed above. When I’m editing, I do my best to make the manuscript an exciting and easy read. My goal is to produce a page-turner — something that flows. I want readers to fly through the book and not get knocked off course by speed bumps and, as Elmore Leonard says, “the parts that readers tend to skip.”

How can readers identify your writing style? Are there particular words or kinds of words that you tend to favour? Sentence structures? Or is it more in the story, the pacing or the characters?

For me, it’s all about story, pacing, and characters. Natural-sounding dialogue is important, too. I hope that readers would describe my style as fast-paced and exciting.

Do you think your genre imposes certain restrictions on writing style?

Not really. I tend to write “quest-y” stories and for me that’s liberating in that everyone expects that the hero and his friends will go somewhere, do a lot of stuff along the way, almost get killed but survive and make it home. The challenge is to tell a quest tale in a way that follows the expected rules but also continues to surprise the reader.

Do you think your audience responds to your writing style, consciously or unconsciously?

Yes, I do. My favorite reader compliment on Dragonfriend was from a kid who said, “I can totally see this as a movie.” I smile every time I think of that.

How important do you think writing style is to an author’s commercial success?

I honestly don’t know the answer to this one.

Thank you very much, Roger.

Gary HenryGary Henry

In addition to the novel American Goddesses, Gary Henry has published a collection of short stories titled What Happened to Jory and Other Dark Departures, and The Moon Poem and Other Strange Jingle-Jangles, a collection of poetry. Gary also reviews independent novels on his blog, Honest Indie Book Reviews. His Twitter handle is @LiteraryGary.

Gary, how would you describe your own writing style?

I like to think of my writing style as “snappy” — using active voice and vivid verbs to the best of my ability. I try to vary sentence length and incorporate colorful description.

Are there any authors whose style you admire? Do you try to emulate them?

John Steinbeck is my idol, but too far removed from my own skill level for me to attempt to emulate. Probably Robert E. Howard is my biggest influence. I grew up reading his lurid prose — not just “Conan the Barbarian,” but many of the stories he wrote for Weird Tales and other pulps, reprinted in later collections. “Pigeons from Hell” was a particular favorite. Thought it was the scariest thing I ever read, when I happened upon it at 10 years old. Still makes me shudder.

Are there authors whose writing style you dislike?

No one comes to mind. I invariably find something to like in everything I read. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien is one book I’ve made repeated unsuccessful attempts to get through. I devoured the Lord of the Rings trilogy at an early age, however.

How important is your writing style to you? Are you happy with your style, or are there aspects of it you try to change during rewriting or editing?

American Goddesses cover image

My writing style is an intimate part of who I am. I’m happy with it. I know it’s good and I can technically show why. However, I understand it can still be improved. Going through my work, I still find instances of passive voice, wordiness, lame verbs and other weak areas. Punctuation, especially commas and dashes, is a particular weakness.

Two who have helped me improve my writing during rewrites and editing are Scott Bury and Melissa Foster, both masters of their craft. I’m not the only one they’ve helped, either.

How can readers identify your writing style? Are there particular words or kinds of words that you tend to favour? Sentence structures? Or is it more in the story, the pacing or the characters?

I think it would be difficult to identify me or any author just from an unfamiliar passage of writing. I try, not always successfully, to keep words to one or two syllables. I vary sentence structure and length. I try to vary pacing in the longer works. But these are things many of us attempt.

Do you think your genre imposes certain restrictions on writing style

If so, I don’t pay attention. That’s why I bill my first novel, American Goddesses, as a “sexy superheroine paranormal romantic sci-fi fantasy thriller.” The story blithely invades the territory of multiple genres, from romance to sci-fi.

I read a few romance novels, actually, to learn the elements: The Merry-Go-Round by Donna Fasano and If We Dare to Dream by Collette Scott. They were good!

Do you think your audience responds to your writing style, consciously or unconsciously?

Hard to say. All the reviews of my novel, short stories and poems have dealt with content — plot and character — rather than writing style. I’m sure readers must respond to writing style on some level. I’ve seen nothing to support that regarding my own writing, however.

How important do you think writing style is to an author’s commercial success?

There are as many writing styles as there are writers — perhaps more. There’s no question that a few styles occasionally capture the popular imagination and catapult the books to varying degrees of success. No one knows why those styles of writing hit. My guess is it’s a combination of luck, work and circumstance.

I believe we increase our odds of hitting the popular imagination by taking as many shots as we can. We can increase the odds by trying to improve our writing skills as much as possible.

In the end, there’s just no formula. Why does a demonstrably poorly written novel like Fifty Shades of Gray succeed, while many similar knock-offs, and many more far superior books don’t get off the ground? No one knows.

Trying to achieve success by imitating the style of a successful book is not something I’d recommend, On the other hand — who knows what the beast will find appetizing on any given day, at any given time?

For my part, I’ll just continue to refine my own style until it completely suits one particular beast — me.

Thank you for all this, Gary.

To thank them, I think it would be great for Guild members (Guilders?) to leave comments and visit their blogs, The Novel Project and Honest Indie Book Reviews.

Advertisements

One comment on “Authors as guests: Roger Eschbacher and Gary Henry on writing style

  1. Thanks for the post, gentlemen. It’s interesting to sit down and analyze one’s style. I think I lean more toward the cinematic, while trying to keep things lean. Gary mentioned that reviews don’t usually mention liking his ‘style’, and that should be taken as a compliment. Ultimately, my hope is always that readers enjoy my style without really noticing it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s