The art of Intertextuality vs Innovation – Differences in Style #2

Hello! I’m back with my second post on differences in style– hopefully highlighting different techniques in writing.

style orangutan logo

To create a clear picture, I want to set up a dichotomy. Imagine on one side something like like The Road (which does plenty of unusual things, like dropping quotation marks and blending an extreme version of the pared down style with archaic vocabulary) and on the other something Death Comes to Pemberley (which, while different in subject matter, painstakingly recreates Austen’s voice). Now the latter is a pretty extreme example of intertextuality, or in this case straight up borrowing a style, but it’s an interesting opposition to draw.

Those are some pretty extreme examples of how books can veer from intertextuality to innovation. HOWEVER, I want to state for the record that the difference between innovation and intertextuality can be by degrees- so a book can easily employ both. There’s plenty of room in between. Actually one thing that makes this the perfect topic is it’s an excuse for me to talk about how these things are on a spectrum. Now I understand that I may have given the impression last time I did one of these posts that there is a binary choice involved (ah well, it’s a learning experience for me too 😉 ) but I want to make it clear, especially in this case, books can use multiple and even opposing styles. In fact, a book can innovatively borrow, like the Waste Land. So yeah, if you take away nothing else, styles do not have to be one extreme or the other and you can like both. Maybe it’ll be more obvious this time, since I don’t have a preference 😉

Innovation vs Intertextuality

Art is far from linear in quality, and yet the cycle of intertextuality vs innovation has played out over and over in history. I’m going to explain this in the way I think about it and the best example for me is the differentiated really nicely in three phases of Greek art:

Archaic vs Classical vs Hellenistic

greek sculpture progression.png

(for the sake of clarity I’m ignoring earlier forms and massively oversimplifying this)

In brief: archaic borrowed heavily from Egyptian styles, Classical was the height of realistic forms and finally Hellenistic became a time of innovation. The idea of doing something “new” was very popular with Hellenistic poets for instance- and incidentally shows us that “being original” was cool back in the day too and there is nothing new under the sun 😉 (but I’ve talked about that a little before).

Naturally, we are always in the midst of these cyclical issues. Intertextuality is a technique best associated with the medieval writing. Authorship was seen as strengthened by its interdependence with other texts (partly to avoid criticism from the Church for writing fiction and to give an author more weight in its claims of “truth” telling). More recently, the focus on telling stories differently would indicate (to me at least) that we are very much in the Hellenistic phase in terms of valuing originality and the use of intertextual allusions is less common. Still, this is by no means a cut and dry issue, as is apparent from the recent popularity of retellings.

Ways a book can use innovation

Innovation in writing is such a broad idea, because it can really be anything from trend setters, to the first in a genre, or individual experimentation. There are infinite ways a book can feel new or different and a lot of the time it can cover content as well (though I’m resisting the urge to stray too far off topic 😉 ). Honestly the sky is the limit here!

A few examples I’d give of an innovative style is stream of consciousness, such as One Hundred Years of Solitude, or spare and poetic, like We Were Liars. There’s also the use of Brechtian techniques/breaking the forth wall and speaking out to the audience. I’ve even seen modern books, like Stolen, be entirely written in second person. Obviously, the benefits of such a practice are that it can make a book stand out from the crowd, though, as I’ve already mentioned, it’s pretty darn difficult to come up with something even somewhat unique.

Ways a book can use intertextuality

Picasso once said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal”- which heavily implies taking the art and making it your own. As such, Picasso didn’t merely copy African art- he opened a vein in his own work and imbued it with the lifeblood of a different culture (and hence intertextuality led to innovation…). Now I have mentioned before that the lines are incredibly blurry when it comes to plagiarism, yet making nods to other art is a form of enriching writing. I want to be clear: hinting/quoting/referencing other literature *is not* plagiarism. It is by design, has value and is a tradition going back millennia. Perhaps it is the medievalist in me, but I think there is a value in literary allusions. While I am trying to avoid using subject matter as examples, it is interesting to note the clear line of progression from Norse mythology to Germanic stories to Tolkien to modern fantasy in terms of borrowed ideas and creatures. That is an inheritance that is passed down from book to book.

One of the best examples of intertextuality, to my mind, is T S Eliot, whose poem The Waste Land is a patchwork of references, particularly to classics. In fact, knowing the Medieval preponderance for referencing other authors, it’s incredibly appropriate that the first line of the Eliot’s poem, “April is the cruellest month”, recalls and inverts the opening of Chaucer’s Prologue:

“Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote

The droghte of March hath perced to the roote

And bathed every veyne in swich licóur”

In this way, the poem creates a puzzle for the reader to solve and gives the work boundless scope and depth.

There are of course retellings that deliberately reference other work and, insofar as it is a retelling (it’s a bit more complicated than that), Hazel Wood did make a fair amount of references which I appreciated.

And naturally, there is the use of epigraphs (quotes at the start of chapters) which come in innumerable books from Middlemarch, to Infernal Devices, to my good friend Daley’s use of song lyrics in the opening of her chapters- it’s a great literary tradition to set a mood or create a sense of epicness.

Difference in taste

I don’t know that people have a specific preference for either one- so it’ll be interesting to see what people say in the comments. I have seen some people making an argument that it’s “not something that’s done anymore”- again this is an issue with fashion, so I don’t hold much stock in it. I have also heard people making the argument that “we are not classic authors” or some such poppycock. Now of course, not everyone is going to be the author of a classic, but I can already see books with promise that might one day be considered as such, and I don’t see any reason to discourage people who want to try writing something *great*. I mean, if they succeed, we all get to read it. So if people that want to give their ideas a go, I say DREAM BIG- I’ll be cheering you on from the side lines 😉

Pared down vs Purple prose – Differences in Style #1

So I did this post a little differently to last time, hope you liked it! Do you think there is a tremendous difference in taste here? Let me know in the comments!

57 thoughts on “The art of Intertextuality vs Innovation – Differences in Style #2

  1. Your brain is a beautiful place to be man! I don’t have much to say because a lot of what you described is very new to me so thank you for introducing me to some new terms and I think you laid it out very well! If I had to choose based off your post, I’d probably lean more towards innovation but I can see elements of myself liking intertextuality as well so maybe I’m of a both type of person.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. CormackMcCarthyisgoingtoburninhellforhiscompletedirespectanddestructionofthelawsofenglishgrammarwhenheiswrithingintheflamesIwillbelaughinganddanglingabottleofwaterjustoutofreachandaskinghimifhewisheshehadstucktotheruleslikeeverybodyelsenowofcoursenomatterhowheanswersIwillpourthewaterjustoutofhisreachandflyofftomylittlecloudandbeginplayingasatiricallamentonmyharpIwillsingdeliberatellyoffkeyjusttoincreasehistormentthenIwilldoitalloveragainforalleternity

    And there you have my feelings on Cormac, the most evil person to have existed. I call that the “Bookstooge shall have justice” style 😉

    Liked by 7 people

        1. Let me tell you, it was tough to make sure I didn’t mispell anything. It was really hard to check the spelling, as everything just ran together.

          That and I kept wanting to put in spaces 😀

          Liked by 3 people

      1. I don’t like authors who put themselves above the rules. Maybe in 100 years people can ooh and ahh over his visionary outlook, but here and now? He’s just an ass who needs to smacked around…

        Liked by 3 people

  3. Great second post in the series! I have to confess that I haven’t given this difference in style much thought. It is noticeable in some books, not so much in others. Always thought it was the author’s own way of writing a story. But it seems there’s so much more to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much! That’s fair enough. Yeah there is a lot going on under the surface- if an author has studied literature (and most will have at least read lots) a lot of the techniques they employ will be deliberate. I think it’s fun to deconstruct that (and hopefully useful!)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Well that’s a tough one. The traditionalists in me enjoys how stories tend to get repeated with different twists / spins on them. In fantasy there is almost a comfort in regognising origins of writers’ideas and inspirations.
    With that said I do appreciate innovation. I see intertextuality as a comfortable sofa and innovation sometimes as a chair which feels uncomfortable at first but may actually be wonderful in the long run… innovation gets me uncomfortable and that’s not necessary a bad thing. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have to confess these are fairly new terms to me but now that I think I understand them I probably lean more towards innovation but really I love a mix of both. I love when authors take classic stories and bring something new to them (retelling them or writing a sequel/prequel) or when they reference a work that I love or add little nods to them.

    If I was forced to pick though it would no doubt be innovation. I really love when something is completely new and different. I’ve been known to read books solely because they are like nothing I’ve really come across before.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow, formidable post. Keep it up. I always learn something new by reading these. Gonna be sleeping feeling less dumb tonight. 😀 I do enjoy both, but innovation seems to be the hardest thing to successfully do and deliver without creating chaos!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post, but hmm… I read it earlier and I’m still thinking about it….
    Though I don’t think you have to prefer one or the other, I do lean more toward intertextuality. As you touched on above, it makes what I read a bit of puzzle and makes me more engaged in the work and even challenges me a bit. It’s almost as if I’m playing a “guess who/what I am” game as I read and I love that. It also pushes me to consider reading other work I’m probably not familiar with.
    Umm… these days I don’t see much of it in the books I read these days, but that could be because of the type of books or genre I gravitate to. I don’t know.
    I don’t mind innovation, but it can sometimes be annoying. I think Bookstooge touched on that above. I’ve read some modernist (I think that’s the right term; they’ve all fled my memory) novels before that experimented with omitting punctuation marks in parts of the story, but though I could see the reason for doing so and like how that omission affects the pace of the story, it did become annoying after a while and I tired of it. I don’t like innovation, but I think it’s important that authors continue to experiment with the structures and strictures we’re familiar with to remind us that the novel is a form of art.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that’s very fair- I do really appreciate books that are like a puzzle and it’s certainly a challenge to connect books to a larger literary framework. I love the way you put that.

      I do get that- I think that it’s less common in more modern books tbh- but it’s a cycle, so even if some people will insist it’s a thing of the past, it’s pretty much guaranteed to come back round again.

      And yeah I do get that- there are definitely some books which I’ve read which fall into that category that I don’t like, so I can really relate. As good as experimentation can be, it’s not always going to be a hit with everyone all the time. And again, great point!


  8. I love your breakdowns and discussions about the differences in style, I feel like i’m learning things with each post. I may have to refer back when I come across one of those that I just don’t like the style in which the story is told and can’t seem to think of how to describe it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This is a very good post, and it is refreshing to see someone addressing these stylistic differences. I’ve never been one to go in for what’s trendy. In literatures, as in many things, I like what I like, and often that includes what is considered classic. As a new writer, so far I’ve received mostly positive feedback, but occasionally, and mostly only from those who think rules should never be broken and that one’s style must fit the current standard, I’ll receive criticism for certain stylistic trends in my writing. It’s hard to gauge just yet what is working and what really needs to be altered in my style, as my audience is still fairly small, but so much of the advice I have received, admittedly by individuals who don’t indulge in the fantasy genre, is in stark contrast to my favourite fantasy books, all of which continue to enjoy great success. So, what to do? Write it the way I feel it, or heed the advice of others in an attempt to appease those who adhere to the rules? Well, rebelling against authority is part of my nature. To conform would be to betray my nature. But hopefully I can find the right balance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much! I really agree with you- I’m not into what’s trendy either. hehe I do relate to rebelling against authority 😉 I do find that it’s very hard to gauge the difference between constructive feedback and also receiving feedback from people who don’t like the genre/style. Personally, I’ve been in a similar position and I think the best thing to do is to take it from whence it came- I mean, the people obviously mean well, but not every piece of advice is going to be helpful, so just take the advice on a case by case basis and see if there’s trends in the advice or if it rings true (I dunno though, that’s just my perspective, that could be wrong though 😉 )


  10. This is why I love your blog. I had no idea what intertextuality meant before I read this 😊

    I’m pretty open to any style as long as it’s done well, but sometimes I feel like if an artist/creator enters a new experimental realm they often have to go through a process of doing it not very well before they refine what the technique to make something absolutely stand out amazing. I think everything (music, art, literature, fashion etc.) borrows or is inspired by everything else so whilst I find a lot of “experimental” work is too far out there for me, I appreciate that it’s necessary to break down those barriers for others to use as a foundation.

    My go to example of this would be the singer Kate Bush – some of her work is batshit crazy but you can see how it progresses to something amazing. She manages to both reference the past (her own work and that of others) and be completely innovative in her retelling of it.

    Am I even making sense any more? I seem to have gone off on a tangent. Sorry!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah I’m glad you liked this!!

      Yes I completely get that! And that makes a lot of sense- I think that it can be tough to get into original things initially and it certainly takes time to refine techniques. And yes for sure! That’s a great point!!

      Oh yes that makes so much sense!! hehe don’t worry- it made sense to me 😀 I loved your comment- very thought provoking!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Excellent post…. this made me think of the dichotomy Apollo/Dionysus…
    A way to deepen texts is clearly intertextuality and this type of opposed forces striving and complemeting each other as the text unfolds… Love & best wishes 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Your knowledge of writing styles (and art!) is amazing & is definitely inspiring me to explore the literary world even more! 😊 There’s a book called Please Look After Mom that is written entirely in the second person, but the ending blends in second and first person throughout the same chapter, which was mind-blowing to me (albeit a little bit confusing). I found that method of writing to be very innovative indeed. At the same time, though, I’ve read plenty of books — usually middle-grade ones — that play off of classic fairy tales. Authors have made my favorite princes into criminals, villains into sympathetic heros, and fairies into demons by twisting fairy tales into their own worlds and words.

    Anyways, after reading your post, I’ll definitely keep in mind whether the books I’m reading are more intertextual or innovative… and by the way, I just love this new series of yours so much! I’ve learned so much already about writing styles and this is only the second post in the series 😋 I hope you continue to write more posts for this series! Thanks for such an educational + great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. aww thank you so much!! You’re so kind!! 😊 ❤ That's so cool and makes me really curious. Oh yes I love those too. I think that's so cool when these stories are twisted round.

      Thank you so much!! I'm really grateful to hear that!! Really made my day 😊😊

      Liked by 1 person

  13. 1. Schooled, so I am!
    2. my mind is kind of doing those whirring noises where I think about innovation in literature and .. and… wow… imagine being the first author ever to write something an thus create a whole new genre… and then my thought went to shapeshifters (or also paranormal romance) and how the themes seem to have an ebb and flow of popular topics… it’s vampires, then it moves to princesses, then on to faes, then back to basics… I wish there was a list of authors who were innovators of genres… is there one?

    Woman- you keep blowing my mind with your absolute intelligence. Please do not ever stop blogging and educating… seriously appreciate your effort and time you put into these posts! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah yes for sure. Oh yes you’re so right about trends- that’s an excellent point!! I think there are individuals you can point to who are innovators of genres (off the top of my head Tolkien and Macdonald for fantasy, H G Wells etc for sci fi and Orwell for dystopias).

      aww thank you so much for saying that- that really means a lot!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s