Monday, May 2, 2011

On Writing, Part V — Find Your Own Damned Voice

Before you write that first crime fiction novel consider a few things. What follows is the fifth in a series of short articles about what you might want to consider as you put pen to paper or fingers on the keyboard.

A few reviews, particularly of the Shanahan books, have compared my writing style to Robert B. Parker. Okay, first things first. Any one of the late Mr. Parker’s books have sold far more copies than all of my books put together. And he wrote at least 70 of them. If there were a Mystery Writers Hall of Fame, he would be among the first to be admitted. I will always have to buy a ticket. Even so, how can I not be flattered? That kind of review can be helpful. Putting a few of those magic words on the flap of my next book could easily generate sales the book might not get on its own.

But it’s not true. And worse, it reinforces the notion that writers who write like other writers are somehow better for doing so. “The Next Raymond Chandler!” Get that out of your head. You can only be the first whoever you are. Good writing comes from a sense of honesty. And that means it can’t be mimicry. Your writing voice, I would submit, is like your fingerprint. Absolutely one of a kind as it should be. As a writer, it is your most valued possession. No one can duplicate it. The thing you need to do is find it if you haven’t already. And quite likely it is right there in front of your nose.

That doesn’t mean you can’t learn from other writers. Of course you can and should. Learn from Elmore Leonard, for example, how dialog can propel a story. Let James Lee Burke show you how to use nature to set the mood. But you have to write it the way YOU have to write it. Basically, tell the story as you might to an imaginary friend, knowing that you are smart enough to create a modestly patient listener. Telling a story is talking on paper (or screen) with the added benefit of having the time, after the first telling, to make it better.

The truth is I might be a better writer had I started reading Parker before I started writing mysteries. There were no doubt lessons to learn. I came to writing mysteries late in life (40 years old) and I came to Parker even later (in my 60s). I’m certainly glad I did. His books were, for a time, a happy addiction. But he came a little late for me to copy. And I would have been a fool to try.


jules older said...

Strongly agree.

And glad you resisted the temptation. Wish others would do the same.


jules older said...

As NovelCrimes, I'll be Tweeting abt DEATH IN NORTH BEACH starting Monday, May 9. Good reading, great local lore and gossip.