Arranging words on a page to convey thoughts and ideas is a very complex process that relies entirely on the way the composer perceives and comprehends their world. Developing a personal writing style is a natural evolution that takes place throughout the entire career of any writer, and it can be profoundly influenced by nearly any aspect of the writer’s life or education.
In order to refine and distill your stream of imaginative consciousness into a lucid and comprehensible string of text, you’ll first need to have a very strong grasp on the English language, the boundaries of syntax and grammar that you must abide by. These are the building blocks, the concept of writing style is not as simple as using one word or another- it’s the sum of all the parts, it is affected by the way you craft the plot, characters, and settings, the way it all comes together as well as the voice with which it is told.
The most basic whole unit of writing is the sentence. I know you’re thinking words are more basic, and they are, but they are meaningless individually. A sentence has enough context to stand on it’s own and it must be guided along by the hand of the writer. Everything about the sentence defines it’s style, and the possibilities are truly infinite.
Sentences come in all shapes and sizes. A sentence can be extremely short, such as the famous line from the Bible, “Jesus wept.” Just two words, but they still paint the picture effectively. A different writer may have approached this weeping in a more verbose manner, but sometimes simplicity is more powerful. You must develop an ear for rhythm and flow and use your own judgement to decide which angle to approach your story from. You may have a plot and a scene all mapped out in your head, but actually putting it on paper can transmute it in unpredictable ways. Just as a filmmaker may shoot a scene from different angles or with different lighting to change the way the work is interpreted, a writer also makes these aesthetic decisions during the writing process.
There are several different archetypes for sentence structure that define all sentences, and you should be aware of them as you write to stay conscious of the order in which you present information- one of the key elements of style is deciding what the reader does and doesn’t know during any point in the narrative. This boils down to where you want to place the subject of the sentence and where you want to place it’s modifiers, most modern writers state the subject early and then go on to expand and describe it.
I would highly recommend reading The Art of Writing Sentences by Sullivan and Longknife if you want more technical details on sentences.
Perspective and perception
The way a writer envisions the narrative in their mind shapes the tone and style of the text. Thus, writing style is dependent on the writer’s ability to immerse themselves in an environment and perceive every detail they can from their chosen perspective. This choice of perspective is a daunting one that most novice writers fumble with, it’s difficult to consistently tell the story from a variety of angles without confusing the reader, but at the same time you don’t want to be too static. In my experiences it’s best to sort perspectives by scene or chapter, and make it very clear whether we are seeing the world through the eyes of a certain character or the narrator, their commentary and non-verbal thoughts are often hard to discern from each other.
Let’s do a quick example scene just to demonstrate the importance of perspective when it comes to writing style. We have a simple encounter- a boy isn’t quite sure how to ask a girl out on a date, but he’s going to give it a shot. How should we handle this scene? If we are assuming the boy is the protagonist of the story, you’ll most likely be inside his head throughout the scene, and any details we give about the girl and her behavior will be through the boy, it’ll be his view of her. Now that doesn’t mean you have to write in the first person, getting inside a character’s head is entirely doable as a third person narrator, I recommend reading some Philip K. Dick to see this done masterfully.
Another option for this scene would be to tell it from the girl’s point of view, but consistency is the key to clarity when it comes to perspective. Don’t jump around too much (or at all) within a single scene, no one wants to struggle to keep track of who’s train of thought they are following, they just want it to flow naturally.
Connotation, word choice, and mood
Much of a writer’s style is derived from word choice, how you choose to convey ideas and choosing which words fit best. A witty writer will often employ double meanings and humorous inner dialogues while a romantic writer might try to describe things with eloquence and grace. It all depends on your story and how you want to tell it, what type of narration best suits your ideas? A dark and twisted tale might warrant grisly descriptors and manic tension building. You can use any combination of tactics to bring the most out of your story, try to keep your word and tone in sync with the mood and flow of the story.
What is writing style?
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