Thursday, February 07, 2013

Fantastic, chatty and readable: Terry Tyler on writing style

How important is writing style for the author and the reader? This week, Terry Tyler, independent author of four (soon to be five) novels that, like most of those I enjoy most, defy genre boundaries.

How would you describe your own writing style?

In some ways this is very difficult to answer, Scott, because I’m so close to it. I can tell you how some readers describe it, ie, chatty and easily readable. A couple of people have said that I write about serious or “heavy” subjects in a light way without trivialising them, which is a compliment I treasure — I’d hate to think I came across as superficial, though I don’t really do overly deep! I suppose I can best describe my style as conversational, even during the narrative parts. Some people find my novels amusing (as opposed to laughable, one hopes!!) — any humour tends to be observational; for instance, in my most recent novel, Dream On, I have a scene where a character is forced to go onto The Jeremy Kyle Show — okay, it comes from years of watching Jeremy Kyle whilst doing the ironing — I’ve never deliberately set out to write a humorous book; sometimes, that can come across as too formulaic, too studied, to be truly funny.

Presumably, Jeremy Kyle, the UK's answer to Jerry Springer.
Image source: Wikipedia

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

No, I don’t try to emulate anyone (*gets all sniffy* !) — can’t see any point in that! You have to write with your own voice. I admire loads of writers’ styles, in particular Bill Bryson, Dorothy Parker, Kate Atkinson, PJ O’Rourke, Jackie Collins, Evelyn Waugh, Lauren Weisberger, William Boyd — I could go on all day, but they are many and varied, as you can probably see already!

Are there authors whose writing style you dislike?

 Never been able to get on with DH Lawrence, John Grisham, JRR Tolkien or Sebastian Faulks. That Shakespeare bloke, some of his stuff bores me witless, too ... however, I wouldn’t go as far to say that I actually dislike them; they’re just not my cup of tea. The only stuff I actively dislike is the pretentious and the badly written.

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?

 I’d never try to change my style; how I write is how I write. I just try to improve it all the time. When I’m rewriting/editing, I’m constantly looking for ways to phrase a sentence more tightly, more succinctly, or more vividly. Obviously there are words and phrases I overuse, for which alternatives have to be found, but I think everyone has those! I’d love to be able to write a historical novel, but I don’t think the way I write would work with such a genre. Anyway, I don’t think I’ve got the patience for the year’s research that might be necessary for writing a good one!

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?

Again, it’s hard to say! But I do tend towards short punchy sentences to make impact, at times, and will, occasionally, begin a sentence with an “and,” a “but” or an “or” if it feels right — so shoot me! I use something that I’ve recently discovered is called “free indirect speech,” which is when the narrative consists of the thoughts of the character, without actually writing “he thought” this and that. It’s just something I’ve always done; I didn’t realise it had a name until I read it on the blog of someone who is doing an MA in creative writing! Most of my books are written in this fashion; I change from one POV to another all the way through them.

As far as the story goes, I write about real people in real situations. All my books are very current, dealing with themes and circumstances that affect so many people today, such as divorce, infidelity, alcohol and drug abuse, diet obsession, tragic accidents, unrequited love, situations one can get into via befriending people on social networking sites, Internet dating, TV talent shows, women who want to “have it all” — you name it!

The feedback I get from most readers of my books is that my characters are like people they know. I’ve read words to this effect in many, many of my reviews, and for that I am eternally grateful. As for kinds of words — I don’t write in flowery language; I think I write in quite a spare fashion. I tend to skip-read long descriptive passages, so I don’t include them in my own work. The dialogue is always appropriate to the person who is speaking, without overdoing it — for instance, in Dream On and its sequel Full Circle I have a Geordie [north-east English — SB] character, and I have to make sure that he doesn’t say “Why aye” and “Howay” too often. I’m allergic to clich├ęs in dialogue, and work hard to make sure that my characters talk realistically — even if it means their language is a bit ripe at times, or that they say things that are not grammatically correct!

Do you think writing with a female protagonist and POV, as opposed to a male POV, changes the style, in terms of word choice, sentence structure or other language elements?

Oh yes, of course, because women think differently from men. I think the mistake some writers make is writing the POV of their character of the opposite sex in the way they would like them to think, not how they actually do think. Have you ever read any Jeffrey Archer? His female characters are completely cardboard! But then, all people think differently, regardless of their sex, don’t they? It’s all about keeping in character when you’re writing that particular person, and not making them say or do something just because it moves the plot to the required place.

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

I’d like to say that individual writing style is terrifically important to such, but I suspect that, sadly, this is not true; some books that are imitations of well-known authors sell very well. For instance, I sometimes think that all a writer has to do is stick a cartoon of a girl in high heels on the front cover, along with a cupcake or two and some pink swirly writing, and it doesn’t matter if the style is derivative, it’ll still sell to the huge army of avid chick-lit readers! Then there’s the ever growing erotica market — I suspect the fans of this genre are more interested in the particular area of eroticism with which the book deals than the writing style!

But style as a whole, rather than just individual? Yes, that makes a difference. You see a lot of people tweeting their books thus: “If you like John Grisham (or Sophie Kinsella/Nick Hornby/A N Other Famous Author) you’ll love.... etc etc.” Obviously the comparison with the style of an established author is seen as a way of acquiring new readers. Hey, I’m as guilty of this sort of thing the next person — I don’t compare myself to well-known writers, but if others do I will quote them in a tweet! Aside from anything else, it gives an idea of what the prospective reader might be letting him/herself in for, doesn’t it?

So I suppose my answer is yes, writing style is important to commercial success. Ideally, the writers with a style all of their own will break out and become the most successful. Ideally; but then we don’t live in an ideal world, do we?

Thank you so much for inviting me to appear on your blog, Scott! I hope this interview has been of interest to you and your readers.

Thank you, Terry, for a delightful and inspiring interview!

Terry Tyler lives in the north of England with her husband. She has four novels on Amazon, of the contemporary women's fiction variety, though she is happy to say that men read them too! Her fifth, Full Circle, will be published within the next two months, all going well. She is about to start work on her sixth, which will be explore the subject of stalking, from both the victim and the stalker's point of view, a subject she has touched upon in previous novels.

Terry's books:

You Wish

Amazon USA
Amazon Canada

Nobody's Fault

Amazon UK
Amazon USA
Amazon Canada

The Other Side

Dream On

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