It is difficult for me to say definitively what my favorite book of all time is, but I know that the book that had a truly unforgettable impace on my life and my way of thinking is John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. It was interesting, of course, in terms of plot (but then again, if the plot isn’t interesting, we have a serious problem), but the reason I think it resonated so strongly within me is because Steinbeck’s style is incredibly unique. He masters a pattern of speech that seems so real, and almost creates the feeling of being a bona-fide member of the Joad family.
Like any good writer, Steinbeck definitely had a process. He shared that process in an interview in the Paris Review. In this interview, he shares six simple pieces of advice:
1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish.
2. Write freely.
3. Forget your generalized audience.
4. Don’t be afraid to go back to something that’s giving you trouble.
5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you.
6. Say dialogue aloud.
There is nothing complex about any of this. And most of them seem fairly easy, even oversimplified. But the one that gets me is #5.
This is where the style comes in. This is how we find it. We will inevitably focus all of our attention on a scene that means the world to us. Therefore, it will likely be one of the best. Steinbeck provides for us this word of caution because any scene that is that important to us will obviously stand out from the rest. But for the sole purpose of finding our style, it might behoove us to save that scene in our files for the rest of eternity.
Where there is heart and soul, there is style.