I have only the vaguest idea what I'm about to write about. But I have that vague idea so I'll charge ahead and see what happens, okay?
I've never really given much thought to the idea of having an individual style as a writer. I've always concentrated on figuring out what I think will work for whatever book I happen to be writing at the time. The Astrologer is written in a sort of modernized Elizabethan English, very rhythmic and clipped and careful. Cocke & Bull is Colonial American English as informed by the King James Bible, thick and heavy and always rolling forward. The Last Guest was my attempt to write like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Virginia Woolf at the same time, all startling modifiers and jangling description and long stretches of interior worlds. I never cared--and I still don't care--about having an identifiable authorly voice. If nobody ever points to a passage of my prose and says, "That's Bailey; I'd know him anywhere," then I'm still happy enough.
But for the last several years I've had a sort of idea about a type of writing I'd like to be able to do. I've only been able to describe it to myself in an imprecise manner because I didn't know how to do it so I didn't really know what it was. What I've hoped to be able to do was create a narrative that somehow expands to fill the whole physical world, that casts the reader's eye (and imagination) not only to the inmost thoughts of the characters, but also to the physical world around them, both in broad strokes and in finely-observed detail. But I also wanted a unity in all of this. I didn't want layers of description atop the essential actions and themes. I wanted it all to be One, all to interconnect and for all of the narrative elements to be necessary and singing in tune, as it were, as if the novel was a symphony maybe.
I'm certainly not there yet, but a few days ago I got a step closer. I'm writing a scene which is basically a guy sitting in a chair on the patio behind his house, his mind smeary with painkillers as he recovers from knee surgery a day or two earlier. He's home alone, his wife at work and his daughter at school, and he's drifting along under the influence of narcotics. Not much happens. A neighbor drops by and then leaves. He nods off a lot. He forgets where his wife is. He daydreams. This goes on for 5,000 or so words.
Certainly I could've summarized the entire chapter into a paragraph, but of course his daydreams are important and I want them to be vivid. I also wanted the feeling of being outside on a summer afternoon to be vivid. The other thing I wanted was for the boundary between the real physical world of the back patio with the Adirondack chair and the sun umbrella and the flower beds, to be blurred into the character's internal world of daydream and painkiller-induced confusion.
The technique I seem to be using is to think of the scene in terms of the interior action, the confusion and the daydreams, and to sort of pull that scene into bits and fill the gaps with visions of the real world. For example, David (the guy on the patio) halfway remembers that one of his neighbors has dropped by for a few minutes but during his recollection of the visit he's also sort of hallucinating, or he's remembering hallucinations he had when the neighbor was there; he can't tell which is which. What actually happened? What did he say? What did she say? David doesn't know, not really. During this poorly-remembered sequence of events, David looks around and sees the patio. It's sunny, and there are flowers. I wanted the flowers to be vivid and weird, real and surreal, so I describe them as opening their arms in supplication to the sun like virgins offering themselves up for sacrifice to the high priest of some primitive cannibal religion. So you get the reality of the flowers and the sunlight, but you get the weird narcotic effects, too. The bees are buzzing from flower to flower, and David sees them as mechanical beings made of onyx and amber, and the air around the bees seems to change shape and warp as they fly around in the flowerbed. And so on.
The internal action, which is mostly imaginary, is described as realistically as I can, while the external action is described as weirdly and slantwise as I can, to draw it all together into a single unified thing. It's pretty easy when you're making all of the world hallucinatory, I just realized, but in order to use this technqiue of mixing the inner and outer worlds into a single narrative thread while writing a more realistic passage, I'm going to have to work harder. The thing (I just realized) about the chapter I'm writing is that little of the external description has real meaning; it's mostly just setting and extension of David's mental state beyond his head. Maybe that's not enough.
This has been something I've struggled with for years, though. I want my narratives to have an expansive feel, all-encompassing writing that gives the reader The Whole World. I think that I get there in isolated paragraphs once in a while, but I just can't manage to make it a habit, something I can reliably produce. I really don't know what I'm doing in that regard. For now I'm trying to stop during scenes and look around, look some more, look a little harder and see what I see. It's not the best way to accomplish what I'm going for (which, as you've seen, I can't even define very well), but it's what I've got right now.
Maybe what I should've written about today is how reading poetry is making it possible for me to come up with things like the line about flowers being virgins prepared for sacrifice. That might be useful. Well, maybe later this week.