ONCE MORE INTO THE BREACH
He has questions. I have simple answers.
“Then what is style?”
Style is the arrangement of words in a story by a writer. If the writer is said to have a “distinctive” style it is because the writer’s voice has found expression in a way unique to the writer. Inasmuch as a story has depth, it is because the style can multi-task and function not only as how a story is told but contain the subject matter of the story. Some styles cannot multi-task. This is not a function of the simplicity or complexity of the prose, but a function of the simplicity or complexity of the layering the writer wishes to achieve; some writers have no choice but to operate at a simple level, while others can create simple and complex layering as they choose. Sometimes, the inability to multi-task is due to the banality of writer’s worldview. Sometimes, it is due to audience pandering. Sometimes, the writer hasn’t yet matured to the point where his or her style can carry the weight (or carry it in an effortless fashion).
“What is character?”
Character is the arrangement of those particular words in a story that create an image of a construct, which, for the duration of the reader’s suspension of disbelief, appears to share some of the attributes that we believe constitute a human being, even though the only truly empirical evidence we possess in this regard is the anecdotal evidence of inhabiting our own skins. For all we know, everything around us is a construct of a rapidly decaying mind and our body lies upon a fever-sweated cot in the corner of some mental ward in another reality altogether. Thus, our suspension of disbelief while reading a story is a micro version of the faith we have in the people who inhabit our real world, since we have no way of truly verifying anything we think we know about them other than the most basic of banal facts. (This is why those who read only “realistic” fiction can fool themselves into believing that what they read has more relevance to the real world than fantasy. However, it is a false barometer of relevance.)
When DG writes:
I would propose that in the very best fiction, genre or otherwise, character is actually just an illusion created by the use of language in a particular way--by a writer's style, although the illusion thus created may be more or less a conscious act, may in fact be simply an artifact of the stylistic choices the writer has made to begin with.
he articulates the fact that writers are like painters, in that they have a palette of colors to work with, which they then deploy to create a painting using brushstrokes. These brushstrokes are dictated by the types of brushes they use, and their personal approach to creating the brushstrokes. How they mix and layer the paint. The resulting image of a person will seem to exist independent of the brushstrokes, but it has no such autonomy (like a golem). This is unimportant to a reader to consider; it may not enter into that person’s thoughts about why they liked or disliked a story, even though, were that person to view a painting, such thoughts would come to mind almost automatically. However, it is important in discussing fiction from the inside looking out.
The mistake in DG’s post is to concentrate on character as if character were separate from setting separate from situation separate from theme separate from... Character is style, true, but this is like saying a person is made up of atoms. Yes, well, so is this chair I’m sitting in right now. What’s your point?
Implied question: What is voice?
“Voice” is the totality of the effect created by the writer through the writer’s style. In a sense, it is the breath of life infusing the body of the work (said body composed of words; see definition of “style” above). Voice is not the mix of style and point-of-view, unless by point-of-view one means the point-of-view of the writer not a character in the story—or, more specifically, the way in which the writer infuses the story, on some level, with his or her point-of-view.
“...if style were character, bringing in four authors should bring in four powerfully distinct characters, right?”
Bringing in four authors for one story generally results in mediocrity, should be avoided whenever possible, and definitely should not be used as anecdotal evidence of anything.
I have (a few) (pointless) questions. Does he have answers?
As the how of a story, the style merely lays a patina over how the story will be interpreted—which is not unlike POV in its effect, although POV is the storyteller’s [potential] bias while style evokes the mood. Style can influence how the reader sees character (and plot, setting, POV, theme, etc.), but cannot substitute for it.
Interrogatory #1: Which of the following definitions of “patina” do you mean to invoke above?
1 - a thin surface layer which develops on something because of use, age or chemical action.
2 - something which makes someone or something seem to be something which they are not.
3 - a blue-green layer that forms on copper, brass or bronze
If you mean definitions 1 and 3, you are assuming style is something that encrusts a story, that forms on top of it. Instead, style permeates. It inhabits. It exists at the particle level, in each word as strung into a phrase, into a sentence, and, in some writers, in the syllable. (If you are Greer Gilman, it doesn’t exist just in the syllable, it exists in every meaning and derivation of the word from the beginning of time, and thus as you read, each word creates layers of association that constitute a special kind of style. This is a special kind of madness, true, but beautiful nonetheless.)
If you mean definition 2, then perhaps you mean that most styles make constructs seem to be something they are not: actually alive?
Interrogatory #2: Since style always affects how the reader sees character, plot, etc., isn’t style, in effect, story?
Third, if one writer had a superior style to another, then the character(s) of the superior style should also be superior.
Interrogatory: What is a superior style? Superior to what? And how do you judge? Each and every story must be told in the style best suited to it—whether simple and unadorned, or convoluted and ornate; some stories require both, or some hybrid. Most writers work in variations of one voice, but within those variations whole different worlds of meaning shift into focus, so this idea of “variation” is actually rather wide in its effects—and, thus, multiple styles.
(Evil Monkey: "That was...interesting." Jeff: "You think so? 'Cause as soon as I wrote it, it all seemed so falsely academic. I remembered how I start a story: a character, a situation, an associated image, and some sense of an ending. Then I work on the tone, the style, writing and rewriting beginning paragraphs until I've got the 'mix' right. Only then do I write the story. And I sweat, bleed, and laugh with that character all the way through. I don't know how that relates, but that's how it is in 'real' life." Evil Monkey: “It's okay. Two seemingly opposing ideas can, sometimes, both be true." Jeff: "It's a relief that you feel that way." Evil Monkey: "You know, I might not be the best educated monkey in this here tree, but I’m starting to worry about you. First you share your weird dreams and now you engage another blogger in ‘dialog.’ Are you feverish?” Jeff: “Does talking to an imaginary monkey automatically mean one is feverish?”)