A Pleasant Thought

I’ve been battering my head against a couple of bits of fiction I’m writing at the moment, for places other than this blog. Or, should I say, that I’m not writing, even though one of the deadlines is tomorrow. But I’m prevaricating *very hard* on both of them. (Don’t worry, people who asked for them, if you’re reading this. I don’t miss deadlines.)

One of the problems I have with writing fiction is my prose style. I don’t like it. It does the job, but is very Asimovian. My words never sing, there’s no real beauty to them.

This is not, incidentally, a way of persuading other people to tell me “Oh, your prose style is lovely!”. Even had I the turn of phrase of a Wodehouse combined with the clarity of an Orwell, I’m talking about my own reactions to my writing here. And I can see the joins. I’m a reasonably facile imitator of other people’s styles (which is why so much of my fiction is written in the voice of others — first-person narrative is much easier for me than third person, because I can use someone else’s voice) but I have no good style of my own.

And this has been holding me back, because I’ve been thinking “I’m in my 30s now. I’m probably stuck with the style I’ve got. I’ll not get much better.”

But yesterday, the new collection of Terry Pratchett’s short fiction — A Blink Of The Screen — arrived. Now this is, in many ways, a sad event. It’s the sort of collection of ephemera that would normally be published posthumously — it’s very like Douglas Adams’ The Salmon Of Doubt, for example — but given that Pratchett knows he’s living with a terminal illness, it’s come out more prehumously, as a tidying-up of loose ends. (Although it’s important to note that, as Granny Weatherwax would put it, he aten’t dead. This is his fourth book this year, and he’s writing more.)

So it’s a collection of all his post-fame short fiction (much of it very good), along with selections from his pre-fame work.

And the pre-fame work has *exactly* the same problems that my own prose does. From reading this, and from his early novels, it becomes apparent that Pratchett didn’t actually find his voice until he was about 37 or so — even though he was a working, professional, writer from the age of 18 (working as a journalist and press officer). Pratchett’s work from the ages of about twenty-eight to about thirty-five reads *very* like my own work. If anything mine’s slightly better. There’s the same rushed nature, as if he’s desperate to get to the ending, even if the ending isn’t very good. There’s the same sense of reading a couple of good sentences that suddenly land with a thud in a leaden cliche. There’s the same sense of someone who’s read a lot of good writing, and can recognise it, but can’t quite do it yet.

Now, I certainly wouldn’t hold Pratchett up as an example of Great Literature, but the man can *definitely* write now. But his ‘juvenilia’ lasted well into his thirties, while most of the writers I like had their style fully-formed from their early twenties.

So I think maybe there’s hope for me yet. I think I’ll get back to that story now…

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2 Responses to A Pleasant Thought

  1. Actually, I’d say your words most certainly do sing, but you’re simply immune. I might have said the same thing about a year ago, but for some reason ODing on David Sedaris audiobooks somehow “cleared a blockage”… and I’m a bit embarrassed to say I now very much enjoy my own writing, at least once I’ve edited it to remove all the Sedarisisms (leaving just the stuff I’ve ripped off from Dick and Simak). Believe it or not, your writing exudes confidence.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Thanks, but it definitely isn’t anywhere near the level I’d like it to be myself. I think the ideas are all there, but the execution is lacking.

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