7.08.2006

Gen X writing style

Miss Snark:

I've seen multiple books and Internet sites reference something they call the "so-called Gen-X writer and his style." The first time I saw this was in Noah Lukeman's book The First Five Pages. He called "the so-called Gen-X" writer's style "too minimalist." I have no idea what that means. Is there something especially indentifiable (and poor) in the writing style of Gen-Xers?


I've never heard of something called a Gen-X writer's style.

Any generalization that equates the writing style of Jonathan Safran Foer, Allegra Goodman, and Stephen Elliot is nuts.

Here's a clip from the NBCC blog with more "under 40" writers. See if this generalization applies to any of the people listed there.

8 comments:

Sherry Decker said...

I tend to be a minimalist, since I predominately write short fiction. Writing my first novel, it's now a challenge to e-x-t-e-n-d scenes. As far as under-40 writers being more minimalists, I'll disagree. Jeff VanderMeer http://vanderworld.blogspot.com/
once told me, "Style IS plot." That probably explains why he writes the way he does. He's very stylistic and his characters and descriptions seem to take center stage, as opposed to story. But, Hemingway could be considered a minimalist. So could Philip K. Dick. The list could go on and on. Being a minimalist is not a flaw in my opinion.

Sherry Decker said...

And I should add, being flamboyant and stylistic with one's writing is not a flaw either : ) it's pure choice.

gdotcom said...

That's not what most people in the literary world mean by "minimalism." You're refering to being a "miniaturist" in writing short pieces. Minimalism is a distinct phrasing style having nothing to do with length. Short sentences, verb-oriented, extremely visceral yet succinct description. Popularized by Palahniuk in recent years but largely credited to Gordon Lish, it also includes writers like Tom Spanbauer, Amy Hempel, etc.

There's no Gen-X writing style to pin down, but minimalism, thankfully, is growing in prevalence these days. It could partly be attributed to the Gen-X factor, with decreasing attention spans and sensitivity to fast-cut media. We tire of lengthy prose describing the clouds; give us some bodily action, else the video game console's only an arm's reach away. . .

nice anonymous said...

Is minimalism really becoming more prevalent? I've heard it argued convincingly that it peaked some time ago. I do recall a classroom full of undergrads in the early 1980s imitating Ray Carver as closely as they could (naturally, since he was teaching the fiction writing class). But of course, none of them was a perfect mimic & their own individual voices eventually came through.

I really think a writer's diction is inextricable from his or her identity & personality. So there are always going to be two or three "movements" in prose writing going on at the same time. A literary world that could accommodate Hemingway was also able to comfortably accommodate Faulkner. So if you don't want to write like Chuck Palahniuk, if that's not your personality & way of thinking, then that's quite all right. It's not a mandate for acceptance in the literary world. Read E. Annie Proulx, Alan Gurganus, Cormac McCarthy & etc., and take heart.

Anonymous said...

Many also observe the demo called "baby busters" born from 1957 to 1964, during the eleven year slide in the US birth rate. If the boomers were the babies of WWII, spoiled hippies who hated their parents while attending expensive colleges at their parents' expense, then the baby busters, 11-4 years old during the catacylsmic year of 1968, should be acknowledged to have more in common with X than with the Boom, if for no other reason than they, too, sit appalled and outnumbered while their parents make every systematic attempt to wreck this country.

I am proud to claim that I lived, generationally, alongside Bill Vollman (46) and Johnathan Franzen (46). What they do look nothing like each other. They have both resisted or outgrown the workshop style, the MFA effect that mounts the monkey of that missing extra decade on most American writers' backs. H&F were not punished into quotidian mass-production for POV experimentation or thematic audacity. Imagine what a modern workshop group would do with "Hills Like White Elephants." ["I am just apalled that you would make abortion into a theme for fiction. This is just not right. Your narrative signification agenda emerges through your coded text reference programme as a traditional phallocratic argument for oppressing women. I'm picketing this workshop tomorrow. I swear. I'm SO serious. Humph."]

Looking back at the "immigrant narrative," if this can be taken, with something like a politically correct, academic, hypersensitive lump in the throat, to mean "books about immigrants," then it looks to me like the "immigrant narrative" is written by either non-immigrants (Ragtime), or by US-born immigrant descendants (Mario Puzo). Is this because it takes a great synthesis (as theme, as character, as conflict) to make a great novel, and the thesis of the immigrant experience itself is simply of too narrow a scope? I am inclined to think so. We know it's hard to leave everything behind and go somewhere new. What makes the story is what happened after you got there.

sherry said...

gdotcom said: "We tire of lengthy prose describing the clouds; give us some bodily action" (and) "verb-oriented, extremely visceral yet succinct description."

That's how short fiction is written, you know. At least successful short fiction is. Are you assuming things? However, if the term 'minimalist' refers to a choppy, short, blunt, visceral style, then I'm glad I'm not one.

Kanani said...

jWhenever I think of a minimal use of language to convey imagery or emotion, I always go back to poetry, where only the fearless trek and succeed. And this happened way before GenX. Besides, with GenY already in the workplace, and GenZ following close on its' skateboard, I suppose any reflection on GenX is late.

The NBCC article wasn't very hopeful. But I have to admit some of the generalizations are true:

" complicating the hoary old American immigrant narrative, : ---PEN West has a fellowship devoted to ths. Unfortunately, unless you write about an alter-ego who feels confused, conflicted and have a grandmother with six kitchen Gods, a boyfriend who writes suicidal poetry and drives a lowriding Regal, and the urge to become a Victoria's Secret Model with small breasts, you're not getting in.

"the influence of the colossal MFA industry on the artistic and professional development of younger writers" --Big yes, but then, it's the chicken or the egg question. Which came first, HBO or MTV?

"- the tendency of younger writers to be more open to the conventions and techniques of genre fiction (mysteries, science fiction) than previous generations." Unfortunately, so many people come to writing classes already having chosen in their minds what sort of novelist they're going to be, when in fact, they have yet to learn to write. But I suppose it's the free market trade thing. It's hard to find anyone not profit driven today.

-- the possibility that writers currently bloom later in their careers

Possibility? That's the problem with MFA programs. They only have youngsters. I did not become completely bossy and opinionated with enjoyable delusions of grandeur and swift kicks of self effacement until I was 40. And now, as my friend Jude would say, I'm simply spectacular.

HOWEVER, tsk, tsk.... when you go to book faires, inevitably they have a 'first novelists panel.' And they ALWAYS put up novelists who are in their 20's and 30's. In fact, JS Foer was on one such panel. I wanted to spank his bottom for being so cheeky, and tell him to get a job and earn a little humility.

This is when I thank God for writers like Harriet Doerr.

gdotcom said...

Sherry sez: "That's how short fiction is written . . . Are you assuming things?"

Sure, and that's true. But I personally enjoy seeing that style extended over a complete novel, and I know a lot of younger readers do, too. It probably doesn't help that I direct videos for a living. =) I wanna read something that punches me in the gut instead of just telling me that the character got punched in the gut, if that makes sense.

Stolen from Wiki: "Literary minimalism is characterized by an economy with words and a focus on surface description. Minimalist authors eschew adverbs and prefer allowing context to dictate meaning. Readers are expected to take an active role in the creation of a story, to "choose sides" based on oblique hints and innuendo, rather than reacting to directions from the author . . ."