Updated: Aug 22, 2020
Open a book by Charles Dickens. When you do, you’re bound to find a different writing style than what you’d find reading J.K. Rowling.
“Duh,” you might say. They operate(d) out of different eras.
Fair enough. So how about this one instead…
Open a book by contemporary novelist Danielle Steel. When you do, you’re bound to find a different writing style than what you’d find reading Dan Brown.
“Duh,” you might say again. They operate out of different genres.
Fair enough again. So how about this one instead…
Open a book by contemporary fantasy novelist Kim Harrison. When you do, you’re bound to find a different writing style than what you’d find by reading contemporary fantasy novelist Jim Butcher.
Before you say, “Duh, they operate out of different genders” or some such thing, you’re right a third time. (Aren’t you so smart?) Yet it doesn’t matter if you choose two writers from the same era, genre and gender.
They’ll still have different writing styles because that’s just how writing styles work.
When thinking about writing styles, it might be somewhat helpful to consider fashion styles.
There’s bohemian, which is all loose and flowy and au naturel, at least on women… artsy, which often looks like the person just stepped out of Paris… glamorous, with its Hollywood bling… the sophisticated and striking classy style… sporty… preppy… punk…
The list easily goes on from there. When it comes to writing, there are just as many varieties. And while they don’t have as easy-to-find names, each writer takes one (or many) and makes it his own.
How do you write? What word choices do you use, whether advanced or evocative? How do you arrange those word choices in your sentences? How about in your paragraphs? And are your paragraphs long or short?
Your answers to those questions (and, admittedly, a few others) determine your writer’s style, which is just as unique as a fingerprint. Everyone has their own way of writing that’s distinctive no matter if told to write out the same exact plot points with the same exact characters, setting and all-around set-up as everyone else.
Maybe you’re born with it. Maybe you develop it as more a matter of nurture. But you work it out every time you put words down on paper whether you know it or not.
I do believe that writing styles – whether displayed in fiction or nonfiction – are an expression of who you are and how you’re feeling.
For example, my writing style (if you haven’t noticed) tends to involve longer sentences. I do this because I’m always trying to cram as much information as I possibly can into each thought.
My personality drives me to always want to be clear, leaving no room for misunderstanding or exception. Feel free to disagree with whatever point my final statement is. That’s fine. Just as long as you understood it as I intended it to be.
That’s also why I use dashes the way I do. Which, for the record, is far less than I’d like to. I so often feel the need to add in asides for clarity’s sake.
So ask yourself: “How about my personality? What do I want to convey? How do I want readers to feel?”
The answers, whatever they are, will no doubt correspond with the way you write.
And yes, just as your personality and intentions can change or grow as you mature, so can your writing style. Unlike your physical fingerprints, it doesn’t have to stay static.
Editor’s Note: Read the next post on writing style here.