Starting to think about future projects…

Whenever you read a real writer–someone whose work has stood the test of time–a person like Evelyn Waugh or Edith Wharton or HP Lovecraft or Jane Austen or Chinua Achebe or James Baldwin or, well, you know, many names…their work is always immediately recognizable. There’s just something that they do. It’s in the texture of the sentences; the choice of details; the way that characters talk. It’s in the ways that they open their work and in their plot progressions and in the rhythm of their final lines (for instance, Edith Wharton always closes her short stories on a line of dialogue).

And it would be easy and simple to say that every writer has their own distinctive style. But that’s simply not true. Distinctiveness is actually the province of only a very few writers–most of the rest are merely playing with somebody else’s toys.

I wonder sometimes what my own thing will be. Will it ever arise? What is a Rahul Kanakia story? What’s a Rahul Kanakia sentence? What’s a Rahul Kanakia ending?

It’s tough, because you can’t just search for a new way to say or do something. That’s the mistake people make. They write a cliched line, “He was out of his mind with fear” and then try to think of a way to rewrite the line in a way that’s not cliched. But you can’t do that. You can’t simply search for the new solution to an old problem. You need to turn things around. Newness arises from necessity–because what you want to say cannot be said in the old way.

So you can’t just try to be different and special–you need to search for that wellspring from which differentness flows. And sometimes, I think, you never find it. You search and you search and you search and you never find your thing–the story that only you can tell.

Or sometimes you think you’ve found it, and you’re simply wrong. I can’t count the number of people who’ve come to me and said, “This is a deeply personal story” and given me something that was straight out of Tolkien. You can feel very deeply about a story and still be unable to put that feeling into words.

I don’t know. I hope I manage to do something new. But I’m not sure. At least life is very long, so if I’m not doing it yet, then maybe I will someday.

2 Comments on “Starting to think about future projects…

  1. I agree with your key point about newness arising from necessity.

    But you’re wrong on the trivial point about Edith Wharton always closing her short stories on a line of dialogue. Check out “The Reckoning” (I won’t post a link in case it triggers a spam flag, but you can easily find the text online). It’s a great story that I specifically remember because it has a chilling final line, a physical detail that also has thematic resonance. And it’s not dialogue.

    As for finding your own style, I think you’re right that this is usually a long-term process. It’s often identified in retrospect from a handful of key works. Writers such as Philip K Dick and J G Ballard are often cited as having particular identifiable styles (or at least thematic obsessions), but if you actually read their collected works you can see that they also wrote a lot of routine forgettable fluff, and the full “Dickian” or “Ballardesque” style is something that’s in a minority of their work — albeit it’s their best stuff, what they’re most remembered for.

    • Sure, it’s not always. But I just read a story collection of hers (NEW YORK STORIES) where the majority ended this way. Agreed, though, that the distinctive bits of an author’s style aren’t present in every story or novel (and that sometimes authors overuse those bits and end up descending into self-parody).

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