Tuesday, July 28, 2009


From time to time Jeff VanderMeer sings the praises of David Madden's Revising Fiction: A Handbook for Writers on his blog Ecstatic Days. I bought the book a couple of years ago and initially read bits and pieces of it. Now I'm working through it on a regular basis, attempting to target problems in my own writing (which are legion).

Yesterday I came across Technique # 15 (of 185): Considering your overall conception, is your style inappropriately simple or complex?

I suppose I'd given this some limited thought, but obviously never enough. Madden provides examples of plain/simple style from Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, complex/grand style from Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel, and a controlled use of simplicity and complexity from James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Says Madden: "Usually, the simple style works best for first-person narration, the complex for omniscient, and the midstyle for central intelligence. The passages above are examples of each..... The most obvious danger of the simple style is banality, of the complex style is overwriting or confusion, and of the midstyle is blandness. Sometimes style may be too simple, and you need to revise for greater complexity."

Madden's book has really exposed the limitations and weaknesses of my writing in a clear, no-nonsense way. I could (and probably will) spend years in this book. I'm already a better writer for the small amount of time I have spent there.

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