Friday, December 21, 2012

On Successful Style-Switching

By some miracle I wrote 300 pages in a spring semester two years ago--but it was a dissertation, not a novel. And I fear my subconscious will have trouble making the switch from the diss to this NaNoWriSpr novel-manuscripting project and not recognize that this one, too, is a novel, rather than a dissertation. It simply must recognize that.

One of my biggest concerns for this new novel project of mine, for which the actual writing starts in less than a month, is that my recent requirements to write highly academic prose occasionally broken by creative non-fiction essays are unfortunately likely infect my novel's tone. That despite my best efforts to the contrary, 5 syllable words will worm their way into passages that are meant to be highly emotional or suspenseful. That my subconscious will add topic sentences to paragraphs. Etc. 

I've been a bit concerned about this process ever since I heard Camilla Gibb give an excellent talk a few years back at the University of Saskatchewan about her own long process of transitioning from writing a dissertation in anthropology to writing fiction, and writing it well. I really want to avoid a long transitional process if it is remotely humanly possible.

I have a few tips and tricks up my sleeve to try to hasten the transition. On a recent Way with Words podcast (love this linguistics podcast--it's been helping me re-focus on the joy of words this fall), Martha suggested a technique for switching among styles which simply involves copying the works of a master in whatever genre you're shifting into. I'm planning to try this over my holiday break--and probably still in the spring whenever I'm switching from teaching tasks and/or academic writing into the DNiP* project.

I've also bought a couple of useful reference books for writers to help me de-academicize my prose as well. Perhaps the most useful is called The Emotion Thesaurus, which arrived in the mail a few days ago. It will help me make my language about my characters' emotional states more concrete by giving me external and internal descriptions of things regularly associated with each of 75 emotions. With that and other writing reference books at the ready along with some time spent literally copying classic novels in my genre, I should be able to keep my prose both better honed and more novel-esque.

Here's hoping it works!

*Dear Novel in Progress

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