Re: Re: Transparent writing style?

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Mikala Engel

pegs – 2008-05-22 11:02 AM

So, I’m confused (as usual). This “transparent” or “invisible” writing style –the way it sounds, everyone should be writing this way. Is this right? I mean, shouldn’t most writing be about the story or the subject matter more than the writer or the language? And yet, simple no-frills narrative is boring. To me, anyway. I expect this is one of those “spectrum” deals, where it’s a matter of degree. I mean, if everyone wrote “transparently,” nobody would have a voice.

Another question I had – why is this kind of simple writing expected for youth? Young people are certainly capable of understanding and appreciating more complex and subtle styles.


Transparent writing doesn’t stop anyone from having voice or style.  It never means bland and boring.  Bland, boring writing draws as much attention to itself as florid, purple writing.

But voice and style are inevitable.  I can’t recall who said it, but I’ve seen a similar expression in many places, and it’s this. “Style is the mistakes you make.”

And “Style is all the unavoidable errors you make because you are who you are.” –Anonymous.

Or, perhaps my favorite.  “Real style is what you find when you stop trying to find your style.” –J. Ireland.

It’s largely true. 

But here’s the thing.  Most selling writers do have a transparent or invisible style of writing, yet it’s easy to tell them apart. 

Mark Twain wrote, I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English – it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them – then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.
– Letter to D. W. Bowser, 20 March 1880

Transparent writing can still dance, play, sing, scream, you name it. But it uses cadence and rhythm, rather than writerly words and phrases.  Read Ray Bradbury.  Maybe the best stylist of them all, he almost always uses simple words, and simple phrases, letting cadence and rhythm do the work.

Good, invisible writing is about the senses. You see the look in a child’s eyes on Christmas morning, you hear the whisper of a lover’s voice, you taste the dew of a freshly plucked strawberry, you touch the wet muzzle of a friendly dog, and you smell the salt of the ocean spray.

What you don’t see is the writer showing off with words.