Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Writing style: Interview with author Gary Henry

In my continuing quest to define the essence of writing style, I have asked a good author-friend, Gary Henry, for his thoughts.

Gary Henry
Gary’s novel American Goddesses crosses a number of genres. Set in the contemporary American Midwest, it features superheroines and spies, a little sex, a hefty dash of romance and lots of action. Combining these genres takes — well, a lot of style.

In addition, Gary 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.

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 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?

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 very much, Gary.

What do you think, readers? What elements of style are important to you? Does a writer's style make a difference to your response to a book or other work? Would you buy or recommend an author solely because of his or her style?


  1. I think style is something I don't notice when it's good. I read Fifty Shades of Grey and The Twilight series (I like to have an informed opinion); the entire time, the poor style hindered my reading. Books I've loved, I've never had to think about style because it just flows naturally.

  2. Style is an elusive quality. It makes for easy reading. It's hard to judge your own. A writer must have a certain level of competance before their style is fully developed. So I would say a writer's style, although an intrinsic part of the writer's way of thinking and expressing, requires a certain level of competence to be properly expressed.