I am moved to write about style because I am currently reading books with very different styles, and the contrast is a nightly experience for me. I am 500 pages into Ian Pear’s An Instance of the Fingerpost, an example of a fine literary narrative style, somewhat Dickensian in feel and most
effective for the tale he tells. At the same time I am immersed in Steinbeck’s East of Eden, also very literary but somewhat rougher; very well structured, of course (he is the master) yet intentionally direct and somewhat coarse during the dialogue, appropriate to the Salinas River Valley of the early twentieth century, and the personalities he presents. Lastly, I have just begun Thomas McGuane’Ninety-two In The Shade, written in a contemporary somewhat rakish style with dialogue current to the abbreviated, slang-corrupted American speech of today.
So how important is style, really? If Faulkner hadn’t written in the dialect of the backwoods south in As I Lay Dying, with individual voices and his particular use of tense, would it have had as much impact? Would we even have noticed? If Margaret Mitchell hadn’t written her characters’ dialogue with stretched southern drawl and if she hadn’t used the point of view of her self-centered protagonist in Gone With The Wind, would it have mattered?
Perhaps not. I have read books by notable authors where no attempt was made toward a particular dialect or style, just good writing. And they read just fine. But then I think about the books that leap to mind when a certain style appears in other works; the style of Dickens, for example, and Hemingway, and even the Bible. Clearly these books bring something extra that renders them memorable.
Of course, we must differentiate between style and voice. An author’s voice remains unchanged except to mature, but her style may change from work to work to suit the story. The ability to write in a particular style is a tool that must be developed over time. Nothing comes harsher to my ear than an unsuccessful attempt to write dialect, for example.
And so I write my novels without a conscious attempt at style or dialect. The story with its setting and ambience is in my brain, and hopefully it will subtly transfer itself to paper, and its characters will speak in their own manner, without my interference.