Smiting Ruin on Montainsides: Your Prose

“…and I smote his ruin on the mountainside.” – The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien)
She dressed like mankiller barbie. – Northern Lights (Nora Roberts)
Nice to meet’cha. I’m gonna beat’cha. – Bleach (Tite Kubo)
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife. – Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)

I remember reading The Two Towers for the first time, breathlessly waiting to hear all about Gandalf’s fight with the balrog. I finally reached the sentence “…and I smote his ruin on the mountainside.” I had to stop a minute and let the phrase sink in. My mind was stunned: that sentence was so cool!

Everyone’s writing style is different; not just in topic or genre, but in cadence, sentence structure and word choice. It can be so distinct in some writers that it almost becomes a personality trait. The way you use your words is like leaving a thumbprint on every sentence; letting the world know that you wrote this!

Just as in creating plots and characters, your writing style is influenced by the books you read. If you tend to read a lot of Austen or Bronte, you’ll find yourself writing with a period structure, regardless of what you’re writing about. If you’re a fan of Nora Roberts, you’ll find you may have a Roberts’ flair to your style. If you are a die-hard Tolkiener, same goes (especially if you’ve created multiple separate languages and plan to have a lot of singing going on). This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. In art, it used to be the norm to copy the masters before exploring one’s own style. The only caution is overdoing it. Unless you are writing fan-fiction, it’s best develop your own style, using unique metaphors and similes. A pain, yes, but it’s necessary if you want your work to feel original. You have your own voice, so don’t be afraid to use it!

There are writers out there who’s work I love simply because I love their writing style. I can close the book thinking that the plot was flat and the main characters weak, but the prose used to move the story along was fantastic! It’s too bad that I won’t read that book again, but I’ll remember that I loved the twisting of the words. On the other hand, there are books out there whose stories I can’t get into because I keep getting hung up on their (to me) poor use of words.Your very choice of words is just as vital to your story as the plot and all the characters put together!

I took a psychology class in college which described word-choice in an interesting way.
There was once an experiment on the use of certain words; three subjects watch a movie about two cars in an accident. Afterward, they were each handed different sheets that described the accident.
1) After the car, going 45 mph, bumped the truck, how much damage was there?
2) After the car, going 45 mph, hit the truck, how much damage was there?
3) After the car, going 45 mph, crashed into the truck, how much damage was there?
When they got the sheets back with the answers, the subject who had the first sheet wrote “minimal damage.” The second wrote “moderate damage.” The third wrote “heavy damage.” Why is that? Word choice! They watched the same movie, and were given the same information about the speed of the car, but the verb used in the question gave them a mental image that had them writing different answers.

Being creative with your prose is the great art of all writers. It’s takes a lot of work and effort, and one sentence may end up being changed around and around at every edit, but it helps to make even a fairy tale retold original. Just let me know if you smite anything on mountainsides!

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