Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Writing styles

I’ve written for almost as long as I’ve been able to read (somewhere under my bed there’s a sci-fi/fantasy story about a laser-wielding dragon) and different writing styles have always interested me.

Most stuff is, of course, written in the third person. It puts the reader in the position of an outsider observing the story unfold from (usually) numerous perspectives, with the writing style perhaps coloured by the perceptions of whichever character happens to be the focus of the action at any given time.

First person (“I did this” etc) is less common, but not especially unusual. I always used to write that way, but rarely do so now. There are some really good books written in this style, such as Bernard Cornwell’s The Warlord Chronicles (I’ve not read them for a while but they’re amongst the very best modern books I’ve read) and Robin Hobb’s Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies.

Second person is almost unheard of, and that’s not surprising as it’d bloody weird to read a book with sentences like “You attacked him with an axe” in it.

In addition to the standard narrative style, which usually has either a single protagonist (more common with first person books, with Derfel and Fitz taking those roles in the above examples) or a reasonably small number of them, there are some more exotic methods of writing.

Dracula, by Bram Stoker, is amongst my least favourite books. Excepting the odd moment I think it’s a tedious slog through a quagmire of boredom and woe. However, it does have a rather interesting approach to storytelling. The story unfolds via press cuttings, diary entries and official reports, which I think is a pretty cunning way of doing it. Obviously, this is much easier in an approximately modern world than in ye olden days.

For the still-untitled (I’m terrible when it comes to naming things) book I’ve gone for a fairly standard approach, with a central protagonist and a few other main characters. Occasionally I give a minor character their own little section, including one chap I already plan to bring back.

I’ve got two ideas for the next project, but I’m deliberately not thinking too heavily about them as Book 1 is yet to be entirely completed (though the initial redraft of the extra bits is well underway). One possibility is a trilogy regarding a war referred to in Book 1, which would be quite hefty. The other is a much smaller stand-alone book, involving an old-fashioned bit of tomb raiding by a motley crew of characters that are also in Book 1. The former would definitely be third person with multiple points-of-view, though the latter could be first person or focus entirely on one third person perspective (I do intend to make it rather labyrinthine and claustrophobic, so that’d fit).

Varying the perspective, number of protagonists and narrative style can change a story for the better, although ultimately the quality of the writing and the plot matter far more.



  1. Another interesting post, Mr. Thaddeus.

    Have you read "An Instance of the Fingerpost" by Iain Pears? If you haven't I earnestly recommend that you do. Not only is it a cracking read, but it is written with a unique style.

    Essentially it is a series of short stories written in the first person by different protagonist but about the same event (a sudden and suspicious death). Each person tells their version of what happened and the reader is sucked in - one can't help but notice the consistencies and differences in their stories and as the book unfolds one's own idea of what the story is changes.

  2. I have not, Mr. Llama.

    *sighs* my Amazon basket already bulges like a fat man's belt, straining to resist the bloated guts of my literary disposition :p

    I'll give it a look.