If you are a relatively new writer in English (or any other language for that matter) you might have been asked, “So, have you found your writing style?”
Have you wondered what writing styles really mean? Is style about being an expert words-smith? Is style the garb or is style the garnish? Is style the primary ingredient in the narrative dish or is style the plating?
There are no sacrosanct answers, just some exploratory ideas about what constitutes writing style.
What do we mean by Writing Styles?
I’d argue that writing style is the sum total of all the choices a writer makes while writing. These could be choice of words, sentence constructions, tone ( argumentative or persuasive?), the intent (directly conveying a thought or allowing the reader to unravel it), usages of figures of speech, idioms and phrases, choice of verbs, use of adverbs… Every choice directly affects style.
How do you express yourself with writing styles?
A great story idea will remain only that – an idea, if it is not expressed well. Very simply put the manner in which you express your story idea is your writing style.
There are two keywords here: manner (how) and express (what).
So, how do you say it?
Do you say it consistently in the same manner?
Often the writing style of a writer becomes characteristic of that person.
Elements that shape Writing Styles
The thoughts are in your head. But, how do you articulate something as a writer in English or any other language?
Language is your only tool. Everything you do, you do with language.
What sort of language do you use? Parliamentary or slang (also affects tone)?
Is your language succinct (clear and concise) or is it turgid (complicated and difficult to understand. It has your readers reaching for the dictionary). Sentence constructions are directly related to language.
For instance, would you simply write, “It was a good harvest but you never know what might happen if the rains fail,” or would you write ,”The bountiful crops today could tomorrow suffer drought?” (Norman H. Drummond).
The latter is also an example of lyrical writing (when writing reminds the reader of a poem or a song). Consider the line from “The Great Gatsby”. Would you consider it lyrical writing? Let us know as a comment to this post.
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”
Language affects all the other elements listed below.
2. Voice and Tone
The narrative voice is that which narrates the story to the reader. What does the voice convey and most importantly how?
Is it a strong and powerful voice (authoritarian tone) or is a meek voice (submissive tone)? This obviously depends on what sort of character you have created.
The voice can be conversational (almost as if the author is talking to the reader) or formal (
Tone could be persuasive, argumentative, humorous or sarcastic.
3. Literal versus Metaphorical
How would you write something? Writing literally typically means the process of writing as things are without deviation from their meaning. A metaphor is a figure of speech that uses comparison (without the use of “like”) between two unrelated objects.
Consider the following examples:
Sentence 1: Even before the game started he was confident of a win (literal)
Sentence 2: Even before the game started he was walking on the clouds (comparing the process of winning to walking high up in the clouds)
4. Choice of words – nouns, adjectives and verbs
“The heady smell of jasmine,” immediately gives the idea of an invigorating smell but “the sweet smell of jasmine,” might be subject to reader’s interpretation. Another writer might choose a more complex flower (like rhododendron (!) ) altogether.
The choice of the right verb makes a world of difference to the narrative. Verbs such as “make,” or “is, or “can” could be avoided. Instead a better verb cements the impact.
For instance, “I can’t base a diagnosis from these problems” might sound different (not necessarily better, everything depends on the context) from “I can’t diagnose from this symptom”
5. Sentence Constructions
This includes the length of the sentence as well as the syntax. Are the sentences simple or complex? How long? Is the sentence wordy or concise?
Victor Hugo in “Les Miserables” is said to have written a sentence that is a little over 800 words (approximately the size of this post!). To write complex sentence constructions, one’s grammar and punctuation has to be flawless .
Writers tend to mix it up. Short sentences followed by long sentences or vice versa. This variety affects style.
Consider these sentences from Mohsin Hamid’s latest novel, “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia:”
(This is actually part of the same paragraph but I have broken it down as sentences to make my point of mixing up the length of each sentence for impact)
Your organization is, like all organizations, an economic enterprise.
The product it sells is power.
Some thirty-thousand students attend your university.
When combined with those other institutions around the city, the street-filling capability of these young people becomes formidable, a show of force in the face of which unwanted laws, policies and speech must tremble.
Are writing styles of authors unique?
I would say yes. Your writing style is distinct. It also extends to represent what a reader might come to expect from an author. It helps an author garner repeat readers. As much as a reader reads a writer’s work for the sake of its content, the reader also enjoys the author’s style and therefore the manner of expression is very important.
Do not imitate writing styles of others…
…simply because your own thoughts are unique, your own word choices and expressions are unique. Stick to those and build your style.
Do you think there are other elements that affect writing styles? We’d love to hear from you. Please do leave your comments in the ‘Comments’ box below