Monday, June 10, 2013

Brevity infused with vision: Independent author Benjamin Wretlind on writing style

Ben Wretlind has broken new ground as an author with his novels Castles: A fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors and Sketches from the Spanish Mustang, and with his collection of short stories (which he wrote over several years), Regarding Dead Things on the Side of the Road.
All his writing displays a distinctive, poetic style of writing prose. I asked him about how he developed his style, and what it means.

How would you describe your own writing style?

I can't describe my own writing style any more than I can describe myself in the mirror. What I see is different from what the world sees. If there was a gun to my head, though, I might say "character-driven."

Your style has changed between what shows in the Regarding Dead Things collection and Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors. How much of that was intentional, and how much was a natural evolution? Are you happy with your style, or are there aspects of it you try to change during rewriting or editing?

We grow. Physically, of course, we grow from birth until death, but in terms of putting words on paper we grow by our experiences. If I showed you a story I'd written as an 8-year-old and one that I'd written as a 41-year old, you'd—naturally—see a shift in style. The stories written in Regarding Dead Things reflect my state of being during my twenties and thirties. Castles was written
over seven years, and in fact, I couldn't finish it until I had developed a style that was uniquely Maggie's (the main character). I had to grow to finish Maggie's story. There was nothing intentional about it.
But am I happy with it? To be happy with my style means I must have grown up, shed all of my skin, and completed my journey. I'm just not there.

What are the important elements of your style? What are you trying to achieve?

Brevity infused with vision. I want you to read what I see in my head.

Your two major works so far revolve around female characters: Maggie is the protagonist of Castles, and the stories in Sketches from the Spanish Mustang are linked by the Artist, also a woman. Why did you choose to base these stories on female characters? Did you find a special challenge in writing from a feminine point of view? Did that decision affect your writing style?

I've often said that the voice of Maggie in Castles is not my own. She "spoke" to me, and I wrote down what she said. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. The Artist, however, was a deliberate attempt to write as a female character because I knew it would be a challenge. To "write what you know" isn't always the best option, in my opinion, because then you're never growing.

How can you expand your horizons if you're simply spouting off your own truths?

Find the truth in others, visual the quirks, feel someone else's pain for a moment and then open your eyes.

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

Ray Bradbury taught me more in the first chapter of The Martian Chronicles than any other writer before or since. "Rocket Summer." I haven't gotten it out of my head since I was a wee one stealing my brother's paperbacks.

Are there authors whose writing style you dislike? 

Not really. I won't say there are authors I can't read—there are many, actually—but to each his or her own. To dislike a writer's style because it is trite or flowery or morose or disjointed is akin, in my opinion, to disliking a person's face or ears or their hair cut. We all grow, and even the most accomplished writer who might be a household name grows as well. That doesn't mean I'll be able to read it, though.

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 would hope it's the characters that people relate to. If people remember me for writing character-based novels that speak directly to them (or through them), then I've achieved something.

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

Both. I want Maggie to stick with your unconscious until you're driven mad. I want the Artist to make you think consciously until you see with someone else's eyes. Audience response is really hard to gauge in 20-word reviews, but I see success and I see failure. You can't reach them all.

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

Commercial success is a nasty thing. I've always believed, from my earliest years, that those authors who achieve commercial success are driven by outside forces to remain inside the lines. When you go outside the lines—when you grow as a writer—your success won't be possible unless the airport-novel-creating-machine wants you to be successful. Just look at a list of "Top 25 Beach Reads." Ugh. Don’t get me started. Is there a stupid virus out there?

Do you think your style will change in the future? Is there something different you would like to do in terms of style in a future book?

It'll change as we change. I can't say what the future holds in terms of style, however, but if you put that gun to my head again I would have to say I would like to write a multi-lingual novel and see just how well that's received.

Thanks, Ben!

Benjamin’s books include: Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors
Available on Amazon Sketches from the Spanish Mustang Available on Amazon
Regarding Dead Things on the Side of the Road: Collected Stories
Available on Amazon And his work in progress, Driving the Spike, is excerpted on the Guild ofDreams fantasy authors’ collective blog.  

Ben's blog is Drippings from the Mind of Me
Follow Ben on Twitter: @BXWretlind 

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