Posted by on in Magnolia City

What style shall I write in?

I ran a creative writing workshop for ten years called the Rabbit Hill Writers’ Studio. That’s where my novel Magnolia City was developed. The feedback of other writers is invaluable when you are working on a manuscript. It really helps you self-correct as you go along. Just as you can’t see your own face unless you look into a mirror, so you can’t perceive the “persona” of your own writing unless it’s mirrored back to you by other writers.

One of the questions my students invariably asked me was, “How do I know what style I should write in?” Often their work was derivative as they attempted to copy the expressive content of their favorite authors. They talked about style as if it were something they could go out and purchase, like a set of new clothes. What they didn’t understand is that style is not something that can be added to a piece of work. It is the work.

And the form should follow the function, just as it does in good design. Larry McMurtry pioneered a spare prose style for his novels about Texas, a lyricism as “clean as a bleached bone.” But I chose to write my book in a more descriptive style. Why?

Most of McMurtry’s work is set in the Panhandle Plains or the Big Bend Country of West Texas. Magnolia City unfolds along the Gulf Coast, in the moist subtropical part of Southeast Texas. In place of the wide-open sky of the West, Houston has moss-hung bayous and lush azalea gardens flickering in the shade of twisting post oak trees. It’s a different geological zone and a different culture. In order to capture the intricacies of Old Houston, with its elaborate social customs and Art Deco skyscrapers, I needed a language as rich and heady as one of those big, fragrant Magnolia grandiflora blossoms.

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Guest Monday, 19 February 2018