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Young Writers Society
Tue Oct 06, 2009 7:53 pm
Your style is the way you sound.
Writing style is a slippery, crazy term that we writers throw around when we either like or dislike the way a person writes. It is sometimes difficult to pinpoint but is always there, always being developed. Every writer is different; every writer has a different style. I like some styles; I dislike some styles. Some styles give me a gleeful tremor that makes me want to write; some give me a headache. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s style is miles away from Ernest Hemingway. James Joyce’s style would not mesh well with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s style. And yet, Hawthorne, Hemingway, Joyce and Fitzgerald are each some of the most hailed writers today. So what is good style?
A good style is a well-developed and aware way of writing that befits the intent of a piece and the natural dispositions of the writer.
Okay, some of you are giving me blank stares and raised eyebrows right now. One sentence cannot encompass good style. No, it can’t. That’s why I’m not ending here.
As writers, we are always struggling with style—how do I make my style good? How do I improve my style?
Don’t eat me.
Style is something you start with, no matter now unshaped or wild. When I first started writing, I threw adjectives every which way maniacally. I disliked Hemingway’s style. I adored Nathaniel Hawthorne. I still do. I have learned to appreciate Hemingway, but, whenever I read his writing, I think, “My goodness, I would rather have my fingers cut off than write this way.” Why? Because that’s not my style. And no matter how much I try to write that way, it won’t work. No matter how much I mimic Hemingway, I will never be him. My style does not equal his style. Neither does yours. It doesn’t equal your best friend’s style either. Nor does your style equal your favorite writer’s style.
So, may we turn to the dictionary for a moment?
Style: a manner of expression in language
Hmm. A manner of expression in language. A way of expressing one’s self. A way of writing. My fellow writers, writing is art. Writing is not just the crafting of a perfect story with no flaws or significant pacing, character, sentence-level etc. problems; writing is an art and good art is, quite often, in the eye of the beholder. I see so many young writers fall into the ‘improving my style’ trap. I see many young writers overwhelmed by the amount of differing opinions and people arguing about their style and coming to the conclusion that their style has to improve.
Don’t improve your style. Improve your quality. And piece by piece, develop your style. In the same way that you don’t improve a character but rather develop a character, you develop your style. You don’t improve it. I’m going to repeat that.
You don’t improve your style. You develop your style. Coming in, many of us don’t know exactly what our style is. It’s hard to analyze your writing style unless it’s seriously whacked out or radical. But working on quality, writing and trying new things will help you develop your style and realize the way you naturally write.
So, then, can you explain that solution more? HOW do you develop your style?
Read, write and listen.
Writers read. It’s how we learn how to write, isn’t it? Reading improves every aspect of writing, from grammar to spelling to sentence structure. It’s pivotal to learning the tricks writers use and observing how to employ them. I’m sure you’ve heard that rant elsewhere. It’s true, but I’m talking about style. So then, how does reading improve style? Have you ever been in a class with a bunch of writers and found that one of the writers you especially admire does not like a book you like? Yes, I imagine you have.
And if, when that happens, you start thinking, “well, I can’t be a good writer if I don’t like Charles Dickens!”, then stop! Reading is not about putting authors into categories of the authors the ‘good’ writers like and authors the ‘inexperienced’ writers like. There is an element of quality to writing, yes, but just because you really love CS Lewis and don’t like Tolkien doesn’t mean you are a childish writer. Some writers are an acquired taste and sometimes you will learn to appreciate them, but you don’t have to love all of the best authors. Why? Because that natural reaction is often your writing style in the back of your head saying, “I like that” or saying “put down that book now!”. When I read Hawthorne, my writing style was in the back of my head grinning all too excitedly at all of the symbolism and long sentences. When I read Hemingway, it was like a silent groaning in the back of my skull. Reading helps you discover what you like, and discovering and reading what you like helps you develop your style.
II. Write. A lot.
Hands down, the most important thing you can do to become a better writer is write. The more you write, the more skilled writer you become. The more skilled writer you become, the more aware of your style become. And the more aware of your style you are, the more brilliant of a writer you will be. Writing more leads to writing skill which leads to awareness of style which, in conjunction with continuing to write, leads to brilliance. Style is not static; it’s always changing, always morphing, always molding to whatever intent you have in mind. And the more you write, the more you develop your style. Even if people groan at your style, keep writing. Write, write, write. Keep writing. Write and read. Read and write. Get on with the writing! Challenge yourself and keep writing; naturally, the more you write, the more obstacles you come across and the more difficulties you have to work around. The more you work through these problems, the better you get at it. So write!
Now, this style thing is not permission to stare at your critiques, decide it’s not your style and throw criticism out the window. Criticism is a good gauge of how people are responding to your piece, and often times the ideas expressed and suggestions given apply to all-around writing, not just one style. There are certain things in writing that it is good to be wary of, certain things that are good to mess with and incorporate. Characterization, showing and not telling—some basic rules that will help engage readers. These rules do not apply to every single piece of writing ever created—writers have creative license and, once we know the rules, how to use them, and we understand the reason why we are or are not employing them in a certain piece for a certain intent, then they become a tool rather than a mode by which to engage and gauge readers’ minds. However, to break the rules, it’s important to understand them. It’s important to see where someone is coming from.
So what do you do when someone critiques your piece?
1. Read it. Now, you’re going to look at me and say “yes, I know, who doesn’t read their critiques?”
But I mean it. Read what is being said; read what isn’t being said. Read into that writer’s work a little bit, discover their style, pick out what you like and do not like as much about their writing and analyze it. Analyze the suggestions they give; imagine them inside the story. Think to yourself: “What would my story look like if I changed this? Would this obscure or enhance my intent?” Read it multiple times. Read it again. Think about your style as it has developed so far and consider what about your story is affecting the reader in this way. Good. Now…
2. Experiment. Even if you think the critique is bogus (and most are not, I’d like to say.
), even if you think it’s too harsh or that it clashes with your story, even if you don’t write it down, experiment with it. Run those sentences through your head a few times. Insert said suggestion in there either mentally or on the page and mull over it. Read it aloud. Really think about it. Someone once told me I needed to purge my stories of adjectives. I was mortified. Hawthorne fan, remember? I tried it. And once I killed my adjectives, I started realizing how much more powerful the description I was still using sounded without the extra weight. No, I did not become Hemingway. Since then, I still use a lot of description and a lot of heavy, flooring sentences. My style still relies upon images and the sound of words—it just doesn’t strangle my readers anymore.
Experimenting doesn’t kill your style. It opens your eyes.
3. Respect your style. You can’t please everyone. Take any famous book and I can guarantee you will find a handful of people who loved it and a handful of people who hated it. Becoming a better writer means being willing to listen, writing with suggestions in mind and developing and becoming more aware of your personal style and how it can be used to make your writing stronger and enhance your intent. Becoming a better writer does not mean forcing yourself to incorporate every single thing a person suggests in an attempt to get all good reviews. If we all did that, writing would lose its wonderful diversity and we’d all be picking pieces apart for anything to critique anyway. To develop your style is to respect your style. As you take criticism and keep writing, don’t forget to respect your style.
So, read, write and listen. Remember, your style is the way you sound. So get writing and get reading, my fellow writers. Don’t be ashamed of your style.
If you desire a review from WD, post
"All I know, all I'm saying, is that a story finds a storyteller. Not the other way around." ~Neverwas
Wed Oct 07, 2009 5:30 pm
Great tutorial-thingie, WD.
Those points -- reading, writing and listening -- seem to me to be the best things you can do anyway, no matter what part of your writing you're trying to improve.
"TV makes sense. It has logic, structure, rules, and likeable leading men. In life, we have this."
Mon Aug 23, 2010 12:10 am
Hey, don't stop yet! Dx I was drooling on your every rule LoL
Paranormal the Paramour
Have a biscuit, Potter.
— Professor McGonagall
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