Most books on writing I’ve read talk about developing a syle, but recently I came across the remark that “style happens.” If style is simply the way you write, how does it come about? In my case, I don’t try for a specific style, such as gritty or sentimental, flamboyant or minimal, sassy or grim or lyrical. Whatever style I have does not even come when I write, but when I edit. In paring away all the excess, I end up with a matter-of-fact style (or so I’ve been told).
I recently entered a contest to rewrite the first 263 words of The DaVinci Code. Dan Brown has a melodramatic style, one that sublimates good writing for effect. (For example, it is a physical impossibility to freeze and turn one’s head at the same time.) In editing his words, I changed the style, but not the basic meaning of the piece.
Here are Brown’s words:
Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery. He lunged for the nearest painting he could see, a Carravagio. Grabbing the gilded frame, the seventy-three-year-old man heaved the masterpiece toward himself until it tore from the wall and Saunière collapsed backward in a heap beneath the canvas.
As he anticipated, a thundering iron gate fell nearby, barricading the entrance to the suite. The parquet floor shook. Far off, an alarm began to ring.
The curator lay a moment, gasping for breath, taking stock. I am still alive. He crawled out from under the canvas and scanned the cavernous space for someplace to hide.
A voice spoke, chillingly close. “Do not move.”
On his hands and knees, the curator froze, turning his head slowly.
Only fifteen feet away, outside the sealed gate, the mountainous silhouette of his attacker stared through the iron bars. He was broad and tall, with ghost-pale skin and thinning white hair. His irises were pink with dark red pupils. The albino drew a pistol from his coat and aimed the long silencer through the bars, directly at the curator. “You should not have run.” His accent was not easy to place. “Now tell me where it is.”
“I told you already,” the curator stammered, kneeling defenseless on the floor of the gallery. “I have no idea what you are talking about!”
“You are lying.” The man stared at him, perfectly immobile except for the glint in his ghostly eyes. “You and your brethren possess something that is not yours.”
Here is my edit:
Jaques Sauniere staggered through the vaulted archway of the Louvre’s Grand Gallery, lunged for the Carravagio, and tore it from the wall. He collapsed under the weight.
Fifteen feet away, an iron gate dropped with a thud, barricading the entrance of the suite.
Sauniere lay still, struggling to breathe. The sacrifice of the Carravagio gave him a moment’s safety. But he needed to hide.
He inched from beneath the canvas.
“Do not move.”
He froze. That accented voice was unmistakable. How did the albino find him so quickly?
“Where is it?” the albino demanded.
Sauniere turned toward the hulk on the other side of the gate. His gaze shifted from the silenced pistol in the man’s huge hand to the pink eyes with the dark red pupils. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You and your brethren are in possession of something that does not belong to you. I want it.”