Saturday, December 18, 2010

Settling on a Style

Sometimes I feel like I have split personalities when it comes to my own writing.

On the one hand, I love depressing glimpses into the human soul. Give me grim, give me bleak, give me chilling and stark. Happy endings? Who needs them! Margaret Atwood, Flannery O'Connor, Daphne Du Marier, and Joyce Carol Oates are some of my favorite authors. Discovering "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" at seventeen inspired me to be an author one day. The Blind Assassin moved me to tears--tears of awe. When I finished Mockingjay, I kept whispering "Wow" to myself, because I was so stunned and delighted by her courageously dark ending to the series.

And I love to write this way too. I'll finish a short story, triumphantly present it to my husband, and ask proudly, "Isn't it so deliciously awful? Isn't it chilling? Doesn't it just make you want to lie awake all night and THINK?" (Most of my short stories tend to be this darker literary style.)

To which he usually replies, "You love sad stuff. It's weird."

He doesn't like "sad stuff."

My styles are night and day different.
On the other hand, I really love funny, whimsical, lighthearted, happy-ending things too. Pride and Prejudice (I'm not saying it isn't deep, but it certainly isn't dark) is one of my favorite books and miniseries. Harry Potter (ditto on the deep, and maybe the dark too) certainly has its whimsical moments, and I eat that stuff up. Ella Enchanted (the book, mind you, I don't like THAT silly of stuff that the movie got into), Emma, Penelope, all of Neal Shusterman's books, smart romantic comedies . . . love, love love. I don't feel like I've peeled back the layers of my own soul when I read this kind of stuff, but I do feel like I've gotten a good bear hug and maybe a cup of hot chocolate,

(And that's just as valid a form of art, in my opinion.)

And I also love writing this kind of thing. Naturally, it's completely different than the first in both theme and style. It's also a little more commercial than the former, perhaps.

So I wonder--CAN I DO BOTH? It's not even a question of genre, because I tend to stay pretty close to sci fi and fantasy these days. But I don't want to give readers whiplash.

I've been told (vaguely) by a few agents that no, I can't.

I do not want this to be true. I don't want to have to choose one or the other. To date, my success so far in publication has been with the bleaker stuff (my short story "Vestigial Organs"). But there's hope for my fun stuff too, right?


I've considered possible solutions. I might have to use another name for the more lighthearted stuff. (Also, it occurs to me, what I consider lighthearted isn't exactly fluffy necessarily ... it's just not hopelessly grim, and it has a happy ending!) I'm trying to think of authors who do this.

I might have to settle for mixing my light and dark. I think Megan Whalen Turner does this to perfection. Her books are pretty dark in some ways, but the lasting impression I always come away with is "hilariously funny and immensely cathartic in the end." I also think JK Rowling always did a good job with light and dark. I know her stuff gets pretty hardcore, but my lasting impression of her books, however, is "lighthearted." I don't mean that in a dismissive way, mind you.

Fellow writers, do you like to write in more than one style? How do you manage it? Can you think of successful authors who are all over the spectrum in their book styles?


  1. Very thought-provoking! I don't mind darker stuff, myself (in reading or writing), but I do like happier endings. I think you COULD write both, but it's easier to market yourself if you stick to one type. Altho your idea of writing under 2 diff names might work....

    You make a good point about merging the light-hearted and the darkness in one novel, though, and using JK Rowling as an example. It CAN be done in one novel, but you have to do it skillfully and carefully--the humor can be used to lighten the mood for a bit and release some dark tension. It actually makes the dark darker, like putting white next to black.

    However, if the tone is too slapstick or carefree, it will clash with the serious dark tones and stand out like a palm tree in a forest of firs. Or something like that. LOL

  2. The style, you're talking about, with the grim vs. lighthearted, I like mixing the two. But overall, I prefer the relatively lighthearted. So, bottom line, I'll experiment with a few styles, but ultimately I stick to the one I know and enjoy best.

    You could definitely mix the genres in your writing I think. Or you could do that pen name idea you were talking about for more grim stuff.

  3. either tactic could work- mixing or penning. i tend to like darker work- but i like lighter stuff too... and i try to write in a way to blend it together... i don't know! it seems like stories need to be what they need to be... the whole "branding" yourself thing is a shame. :(

  4. @aspiring_x I think so too, about needing to brand myself ... I mean I completely understand the necessity of it, but I want to just be able to flit around to whatever I want without regard to it :-/

  5. I think I prefer darker stuff in my short stories, and happier or lighthearted stuff for my novels. When I think about it, it's easier to stick with a 90k book if it isn't depressing the crap out of me.

    I may just have to go with a pen name one day, though.


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