Style is one of the five fundamental elements of fiction, along with character, plot, setting, and theme. It’s also the most difficult of the five to explain or understand.
I like to start my blog posts by defining terms, but this time I’ll let the definition of style emerge as we go. For now, I’ll say that every author writes differently, with certain identifying characteristics. In theory, if we took a sufficient random sample of any single author’s writing, we could identify the author by the style.
According to Wikipedia, the components of style include: Fiction-writing modes, Narrator, Point of View, Allegory, Symbolism, Tone, Imagery, Punctuation, Word choice, Grammar, Imagination, Cohesion, Suspension of disbelief, and Voice.
Each item on that long list does contribute to style, but some are more important than others, and some are more characteristic of a particular story than of the author’s general manner of writing.
To me, the major characteristics of style are Tone, Word choice, and Grammar:
- Tone is the attitude displayed by the writer toward the subject matter of the story.
- Word choice, or diction, relates to the author’s vocabulary. Does the author stay with simple, understandable words or employ arcane words? Does the author embellish with adjectives and adverbs, or let the nouns and verbs do the work?
- Grammar is all about the structure and logic of sentences. What sentence patterns and lengths does the author prefer?
Although your style may change as you mature in your writing, readers like it better when authors maintain a consistent style. Style can set you apart from all other writers; it can be the factor that keeps readers buying more of your books.
If you’re wondering how to go about creating your own style, I recommend you read the list created by author David Hood in this blog post. His eleven-item list can seem intimidating, so just focus on items 1, 2, 3, 5, and 7. I think if you learn the rules of writing, expand your vocabulary, read a great deal, experiment with different styles, and learn about literary techniques, your own style will emerge naturally.
What’s more, you shouldn’t have to work too hard to continue using your newly discovered style. It should flow from you in a natural way. Unlike your stories, which are overt acts of creative effort, your style is something that should emerge. In a sense, you’re unleashing it, not creating it. Even if it does require a little effort at first, in time it will get easier.
Perhaps you’ve gotten a better understanding of style now, that signature or fingerprint that identifies you and separates you from other writers. With any luck, readers will love your style. For now, I’ll sign off in the usual style of—