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  Issue #66

Free Writers' Newsletter

   Aug 29, 2008  

        

A stylish ride!

Writing, not unlike fashion, has its styles too. The popularity of these styles wax and wane with the vagaries of passing time. What was in vogue awhile ago is passé today and what holds good today may not necessarily be right for a tomorrow either. They are also subjective. They differ from person to person, publication to publication and from genre to genre.

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That every writer has an inborn talent and an innate flair for writing is a given. He wouldn’t be a writer otherwise. How he develops it and in what manner is usually dictated by the "style" he adopts, and
that style is in turn dictated by the exigencies of language, culture and usage of the period in time.

Needless to say, writing styles are not born overnight.

The Language
The language of the Victorian era is a far cry from the language of the middle ages. As is the modern to post Regency. Take Shakespeare, for instance. He wrote in a language and style far removed from that of his predecessors while present day writers are on planes poles apart. He was right for the time, but today (other than studying it as a part of your academics) do you hear it spoken or see it written by anyone, anywhere? Do you write anything like "O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts" (Julius Caesar) or do you read anywhere anything like: "Sir in my heart there was a kind of fighting – That would not let me sleep. Methought I lay" – unless in Hamlet? "Thou" and "methought" (let alone the language construction) are words lost in the mists of passing time. No longer in use.

Although Shakespearean English forms the bedrock – the foundation – for all students of English literature, its moment has come and gone. It is no longer the language of our times. No one writes or thinks in that particular style in poetry or in prose. Nor have they done so for a while.

That is not to say it is not being enjoyed or revered even today. It is – as is JRR Tolkien (Lord of the Rings) but when compared to our modern day J K Rowling in the same genre, the different styles employed smack you right in the face.

Doesn’t Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, though as popular as ever, seem almost old fashioned when compared to Dame Agatha Christie, not only in language but also in tempo and action? And doesn’t Agatha Christie pale in comparison to a modern day crime thriller? Just so!

And as language travelled through the centuries experts will have us believe it improved, it developed. It grew. It acquired new terminologies, even while shedding some. It introduced new thoughts while ignoring others. It became leaner, less verbose, crisper, and cleaner. And finally it transformed itself willy-nilly to what it is today. It has evolved into the "style" that you and I favour now.

How you write and the way you write within that framework is what defines your style of writing. Influenced by the milieu around you, it is indicative of your personality. Your way of thinking! It is your voice in tones that are special to you in today’s setting. It could be descriptive or narrative; natural or verbose. Pompous or breezy; humorous or serious. Personal or whatever. All of them or one of them. The choice is yours. It is the vehicle for whatever ideas you choose to express.

And since styles cannot be divorced from language, these settings too (and the style) as in the order of things will undoubtedly become old fashioned and staid in due course when younger, newer writers begin blazing their own trails.

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A Global Language
So it is obvious that just as lives, attitudes and conditions change, so do writing styles. The English language in particular because of it colonial reach has undergone many changes not apparent in other languages. Its style has also been influenced not only by the era and the land of its origin but also by the place, the creed, the race and culture wherever it was spread and used. Thus we have British, American, Canadian, Australian and – well – Indian English with their own unique styles.

A single word to illustrate this point amply is "Station". It is "railway" station to the Briton and the Indian or in the Caribbean, while it would denote an estate or farm or a ranch to an Australian or New Zealander or American. Thus it is evident that styles are word-driven and evolve into various forms that are not only country specific but also user specific.

So we have English that is written in all these styles, and perfected by writers of all these countries which are as different as they are common. And yet it makes no difference. The innate sense of the language continues to reign undaunted. So much so, that the English language has evolved and compartmentalised itself into myriads of varieties specifically favoured by its varied users even while retaining its original flavour. It has also morphed into its current avatar absorbing, adopting and adapting everything that has come its way. It has in the process engendered new methods and new manners of writing. The kind that we revel in today.

From academics to creative; from legalistic to the simple, writing styles have while moving away from so called old formats evolved anew in every field within firmly delineated lines.

So if you were an academic today your use of the language would be in a style that is in complete variance to the style favoured by journalists or to what was in use during the Regency era. Similarly, if you were a fiction writer it could be totally different to that of a white paper writer or to that of Thomas Hardy.

There are different styles even within the same genre. Pulp (James Hadley Chase) in contrast to classic (Hemmingway); old romance (Barbara Cartland) as against modern (Jackie Collins) or contemporary (Khalid Hosseini) as opposed to literary (Doris Lessing) all belong to the same genre (fiction) and are yet so different. Not to speak of the web and the internet. So to help modern writers in the formal arena, the language Tsars have even come out with various style guides as well.

Similarly, too, with most publications and disparate genres. What might work for newspapers may not work for magazines. What is suitable for fiction is definitely not right for nonfiction. And how you would write for Mills and Boon or a woman's weekly is not how you would write for the Wall Street Journal or the Times or even the Cosmopolitan.

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Your writing style
Be that as it may, however evolved you may be as a writer, whatever the style you perfect, the bottom line is that you need to narrate; to communicate effectively. For that you need to evolve a style that is not boring, not verbose nor convoluted; is straight to the point, simple and effective even while it is beautiful.

If you were a fiction writer you would need to develop a smooth and lucid style that is easy on the mind and yet will "grab" the readers' attention. Yes there are editors who now play an important role in helping you do just that. Even so, developing a style is not easy. But not too difficult, either. It comes with practice and plenty of writing. Unless, of course, you are a born natural – which you might very well be.

Apart from the probable "spellbinding’ content of various books it is the writing style of modern day writers that dictate the success of a writer and differentiates a good one from a mediocre one. So it is imperative for you as a writer to develop a good one. And how do you do that? By reading, writing, editing, re-editing and rewriting. And adapting it to what is required.

Now, if you were writing to your friend your style would naturally be chatty, but that wouldn’t work for an essay that is to be submitted to your professor, would it? So you change and necessarily write in a style that’s suitable: i.e. serious and impersonal.

It is evident that styles not only differ from author to author and genre to genre but also from subject to subject – even topic to topic – but a command over the language and its grammar should normally see you through once you have a hang of the matter. And so any good writer would necessarily have to have more than just one style in their repertoire. They would most certainly need to read, absorb and adapt their language skills to a variety of writing styles that would work for them in different genres. Therein lies the heart of the matter.

What was and is
Although there is no such thing as bad writing unless it is grammatically and structurally challenged, what used to be considered not appropriate is now all par for the course.

For instance, in the past adjectives were good: they were descriptive and added colour to the sentence, yet now they are considered a hall mark of weak writing and a word that is one too many.

Correct spellings (color/colour) which had been dinned into our subconscious are no longer that important. We have examiners rueing the loss but grading work nevertheless on the content.

We were taught never to end a sentence with a preposition (of) or begin one with a "but" or an "and". Modern experts now allow it and is no longer taboo.

Pronouns – another point of modern dissention. As recent as the the sixties and seventies professors emphasised the importance of third person singular/plural in essays and how never to use the first person. Today, blogs which pass for essays and features which pass for articles are woven round the inimitable "I" or "You" (e.g. this very article)!

New words and new meanings are also being included in the Oxford Dictionary every year: e.g. "It is so cool" has really nothing to do with the weather or the temperature!

Universities and experts have had to condone and do a rethink about what constitutes correct or incorrect language with many erstwhile wrongs becoming right today. Thus has the English language evolved. The old order yielding place to new in natural progression. And, in turn, writing styles.

So it would be safe to assume that the commonly accepted writing styles we use currently are a direct fallout of all the changes and modifications that the language and its proponents – mainly the writers – have had to adopt in its long journey through the centuries to get here today. And as more new writers come aboard and begin to give the language fresh and contemporary makeovers more new and changed writing styles will also emerge.

Thus it is evident that "writing styles" – like most things in life – come with no lifetime guarantees!

About the author
Sreelata Menon is a freelance writer who enjoys writing on all kinds of topics… the more controversial the better! Her "letters to the editor" on current happenings appear with quite unfailing regularity in India while her articles and features make the scene in online and print publications everywhere! A Masters in History from Mumbai University, India, she has worked as an Asst editor with the Onlooker and World trade Magazines in Mumbai .She has taught history to undergrads, done a stint as an accts executive in an ad agency, before switching over to full time freelance writing. She is currently busy reinventing herself as a web content writer with quite a few projects in hand .Married to a civil servant she is presently based in Allahabad ,India and can be reached at sreelata0@yahoo.co.in
.

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My writing competition success
An interview with writer, Angela Gloker

Angela Gloker recently found success in a writing competition she found through firstwriter.com. We caught up with her to talk to her about the competition, and her writing.

fw: Congratulations on your recent success, Angela. Tell us a little about the competition you entered, and what you won. 

AG: The competition theme was "Desire". This sparked a chord in me as when an old friend and fellow poet visits me, there is an unspoken spark. I actually dreamt about this, and the result was "Did you dream of me last night". The poem virtually wrote itself in my head, and as it was exactly how I felt, I was quite happy with it. I do find that when you are given a theme, your brain reacts to the trigger and the outcome is usually a decent poem. I did not expect to win, but knew I would be foolish not to enter. The prize was a choice of either £300 cash or £500 in books from AC Black.

fw: Tell us a little about your background, and how you first got interested in writing.

AG: I was raised in York, and have spent most of my life in Yorkshire, which I love with a passion. I used to do accounts etc. for a living, but when M.E. struck, I was unable to physically go out to work. I started scribbling (a lifetime love affair with words). Despite the fact that I can be a boisterous extrovert at times, I have always had difficulty in expressing myself verbally, yet with pen and paper, I can write my innermost feelings without embarrassment. I used to drive my parents crazy as when I ran out of paper, I would write on my bedroom walls! Then I literally fell into painting, which in turn led in to sculpture also as I wanted the see the back of the picture! I love working in the three disciplines and find that I have never been happier. The process of creating fills me with great joy and I get real pleasure when people enjoy my work.

fw: So writing's something you've always done?

AG: I used to scribble daft ditties when younger, but only started taking myself seriously in 1998 after contracting M.E. and wanting to keep my brain active. I find writing cathartic and leaves me feeling balanced and serene. In fact, quite often my poetry then draws pictures in my head and a painting ensues.

As children and I recognise kindred spirits in each other, I occasionally write poetry/short stories for their amusement, and have even been known to perform some of them in my extrovert moments.

fw: Have you also enjoyed success with your painting?

AG: In 2001, I had a large solo art exhibition in Stockton, Cleveland, which was well received and generated a lot of publicity in the newspapers and on Tyne Tees television. Then, whilst living in Portugal, I had another exhibition which was again well received and supported.

fw: What made you start entering competitions?

AG: I wanted to find out for myself if in fact my writing was of a good enough standard for anyone to actually want to publish it. I also enjoy attempting to rise to the challenge!

fw: Did you find it difficult to get good information on potential markets?

AG: At first, yes. Then, upon finding the firstwriter.com website, and buying the three yearbooks: Writers & Artists Yearbook, Poetry Writers Handbook and Children's Writing & Artists Yearbook, I realised that there truly was a large demand.

fw: How did firstwriter.com help you find suitable competitions? 

AG: To be honest, this website is brilliant. It saves me vast amounts of time and notifies me of the type of competitions that are of interest. All the information you need is at your fingertips.

fw: Once you'd received email notifications of competitions, or searched for them in our database, how did you choose which ones to enter? 

AG: This may sound strange, but the ones that attract me virtually jump off the page and almost demand that I take notice and write accordingly. I enter a variety depending on which attract me.

fw: To what extent do you think writing for competitions differs from writing for other markets? 

AG: There is more freedom to express yourself.

fw: Do you always stick with the same kind of contests, or do you enter a variety? 

AG: I enter a variety depending on which attract me.

fw: How long have you been entering competitions for?

AG: I started last year, dipping my toe into the water. Then this year, I found that it was quite therapeutic to enter, and a perfect foil to my painting and sculpting.

fw: What do you think has been the key to your success? What would be your biggest tip for other writers? 

AG: My success is purely due to the revelation that if I wrote exactly what I felt and knew, then the words would flow effortlessly. Be true to yourself and allow your brain to express itself without constraint. Do not be afraid to share your writings with like-minded people. As I have discovered, you cannot win if you do not enter! I also always carry scraps of paper and a pen, even when wearing my bikini as I find that inspiration strikes you when it is least expected.

fw: What next? More competitions, or do you have other plans for your writing?

AG: Certainly more competitions, but one day I would like to publish a small anthology when I believe I have sufficient works that are up to a high enough standard. On this point, as my fellow writers would agree, I can be my own worst critic and often do not realise when a piece is worth sharing. I am also working towards a new art exhibition sometime in the future, but no matter where my visual art takes me, words are like magnets for me and I find myself unable to resist them. I now understand fully that the pen is mightier than the sword!

fw: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Angela, and all the best for your writing, painting, and sculpting in the future!

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Resources for writers at firstwriter.com

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In this issue:

Spelling conventions

fwn uses English spelling conventions. Spellings such as "realise" "colour", "theatre", "cancelled", etc. differ from other spelling conventions but are nonetheless correct. 

News:

Agent's defamation claims dismissed
The defamation case brought against Wikipedia by the Barbara Bauer Literary Agency has been dismissed.

The case was brought following an entry on the site allegedly describing the company as one of the 20 worst literary agents and her as "the dumbest of the 20 worst" with "no documented sales at all".

Under s.230 of the US Communications Decency Act, a site is immunised from liability for statements made by its users. The judge dismissed all charges.

For over 400 agents who DO have confirmed sales to publishers, click here

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Get your proposal read by agents/publishers
Publishers Weekly is accepting proposals and extracts of manuscripts, one of which will be featured in an upcoming issue, read by agents and publishers.

Submissions are due by September 5, 2008. For more details, click here

For over 1,000 publishers, click here

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Contribute to the world’s longest story
On August 11, 2008, "The Forever Story" was launched with an opening by Nick Hornby. Writers are invited to add contributions online, and for every contribution made TalkTalk will donate £1 to Treehouse, the charity that helps children
with Autism.

Future famous contributors will include David Mitchell, Robert Harris, Richard Curtis,
Dorothy Koomson, Tom Stoppard and Larrisa Wilson.

For more information, click here

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Literary agent closes East office
Ronnie Gramazio has left Martin Literary Management to return to an Editor position with a soon to be announced
publisher. The East office has therefore closed and the agency has ceased to accept fiction submissions, becoming a nonfiction only agency.

MLM has also become a green agency, accepting queries by email only.

For full details, click here.

For over 800 other agencies, click here

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Zoetrope: All-Story Short Fiction Contest
Zoetrope: All-Story, the story and art quarterly
founded by Francis Ford Coppola, has announced its 2008 Short Fiction Contest, which will be judged by National Book
Award-finalist Elizabeth McCracken and award prizes of $1,000 for first
place, $500 for second, and $250 for third. Additionally, the winners and seven finalists will be considered for
representation by several leading literary agencies.

The deadline for submissions is October 1, 2008. For more details, click here 

For over 180 other contests, click here

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