August 23, 2011


Years ago, I watched a television program where a man claimed he could recognize any prominent author in western culture simply by the writing style.  The premise was that every author had a “voice” as unique as a thumb print. I suppose, the same could be said for composers and visual artists too. Aaron Copeland’s work would never be mistaken for Stravinsky’s, for example. But I think it’s also true that styles change. Picasso moved from his blue period to his cubist period with apparent ease. So, while the man on television justified his claim when tested on writers who were deceased, I wondered if he would have the same success with living ones.

(Yahoo Images

As someone who spends a good deal of time writing, I think my style is evolving.  In my early days I was enamored of Henry James. The longer and more complex the sentence I could write the better. I still have that tendency but I’m working to alter it. Life is too full of interruptions to accommodate the concentration required by elongated sentences. Styles, I suspect, are as much a product of an epoch as they are of personal quirks. In our epoch, brevity is king. Except for E. L. Doctorow, the author of “Ragtime,” who adores weighted sentences that are full of ellipses, it is writers like Hemingway and Carver who have cast their spell over the age.   

Perhaps, as some sociologists have suggested, multitasking and being overloaded by electronic devices have caused our attentions spans to shorten. Or perhaps there is a gene in the specie that urges us to find the shortest distance between two points. “Efficiency,” is another word for it and not a bad trait. So, I do not bemoan the drift from Shakespearian soliloquies to twittering. As a writer, I merely observe the change and if I intend to communicate, I must use the language of the day. Only a god has the luxury of being immutable. Mortals who try it are in danger of becoming obsolete.