Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Your Writing Style

A while ago Push asked me if I thought it was possible for someone to change their writing style. I don't know why that question popped into my head this morning but I thought writing styles would be a good topic of discussion. My answer in this case was yes, but it was probably going to take a lot more conscious thought and effort than just writing like you usually write. But let's start somewhere else.

So, what is writing style? It's basically just generally the way you, personally write. You could take three people and tell them to write the same scene and it could be done in a completely different way because they each have a different writing style. I mean, just look at the quickie challenge, for example. Many of you pointed out how Push's writing has a certain flow to it, and I can't put my finger on it either, but it is just the style in which she writes. She also tends to use analogies, which isn't something that comes naturally to me. My favorite example of this, and this has stuck in my head for seriously like a year, was when she had Han coming home and Leia wasn't feeling well, and she said the tissues were strewn on the bed around her as though they were Jabba's minions. I still love that.

My own writing is pretty straight forward and I rarely seem to come up with those sort of melodic sentences or paragraphs, but it's clear and concise and I'm at least pretty sure it gets the point across. Digs I'll use as another example because I've read her stuff before she posts, and she has her own style as well. Again, I can't really describe it, but it is uniquely her and I'd probably have a good chance of guessing she was the one who wrote something even if I didn't know.

So, how do you come up with your own style? I'd say you really don't. Write however comes naturally. You may wind up having to make some changes along the way that take some practice, but once you practice for a bit, that comes naturally, too. By that, I mean, like sentence structure. I was awful at varying sentence structure when I first started doing this, until someone pointed it out to me. It was all, "He did this. She did that. They went there." It's just very awkward to read if you start every sentence with your subject. Just varying it a tiny bit: "Later, they went there." Or, "After finishing cleaning up, she saw him." As opposed to, "She cleaned up and then she saw him. They went there later." Both get the same information across but by varying the sentences a bit it just makes it a little nicer to read. That is not to say you can never, ever have two similarly structured sentences in a row. This was just an example. And sometimes it is even a style choice to do so in order to get the point across. Like, say: "He wanted her. He needed her. He loved her." So once again, not a rule without room for some interpretation, just something to look out for.

It's funny, but sometimes you have to watch out when you read something in a particular style that really stuck out for you and then go to write something yourself you may find yourself somewhat mimicking the style. I think when Push asked me that question she was curious because she felt like she was getting too descriptive and wordy in her writing. I haven't felt she's crossed the line into too much (or if I did in something of hers I was reading, I told her) but sometimes we can get caught up in looking at what we perceive as flaws in our writing. I think she said when she first started this she wasn't all that descriptive, so she made a conscious effort to be descriptive until it just became her natural style of writing. I don't think there's anything wrong with this. Well, if you start to have like, seven adjectives in a row, then maybe you're getting too descriptive. But she uses it in a way that just really sets the scene for our readers. Even in the quickie challenge, which was quite short, we all had a very clear picture of where they were.

A lot of us maybe have writing tendencies that we have to watch out for because they might not be the best way to go. I find myself starting a lot of sentences with, "S/he only hoped that..." or, "Fortunately..." or, "Of course..." I don't know why. I do it all the time. Not just writing my stories, but in these blog posts, in e-mails I write to friends, everywhere! Again, it's not that it's wrong to start sentences that way, I just have to make sure that I don't do it too much within a story to the point where it gets noticeable and annoying to the reader.

So, again, can you change your style? I think yes. But I also think that you will still always have an inherent way that you would prefer writing, even if you try to push those instincts down and write another way. I'm sure I could write something that used a lot more interesting words and stuff you might have to use the dictionary to look up (I would have to first) but I don't think that with time that would become my preferred way to write. That said, sometimes you do have to make some changes, such as me with the sentence structure thing, in order for your 'style' to be worth reading. Those sorts of things can be changed with practice, and I'd also like to think that I've worked at it enough that it is not the case.

Whatever your style, I'd say you should do your best to just embrace it as your style. We are all our own worst critics and just recently I was saying how my writing is too straight forward and utilitarian, and Push was like, "Ugh, my stuff is too flowery and wordy!" Opposite problems, obviously, and while we feel that way about our own stuff, we were both quite complimentary to each other and saying that we're not "too" anything. It seems more like we each want to steal just a little bit of each other's style in order to balance ourselves out :)

Style is tricky to pick out sometimes and at least to me even tougher to describe, but if it's something you've never noticed before, I'd encourage you to pay more attention the next time you're reading and think about whatever writing style you've been using.


  1. Well, first of all I HATE it when people don't comment. I mean, seriously, me and Zyra can talk to each other any time...

    Anyway, yes, I had asked you this question and I do struggle with my 'writing style'. I did start off with a total lack of descriptions and then when trying to 'right' it, I think I went off in an entirely different direction. I guess I'm still trying to find that balance.

    I do love an analogy, but...oh, how I try not to overuse them! They are like Lay's potato chips, I can't use just one...

    I think I have proven to myself that you can change your writing style with a concerted effort if you feel you want or need to. What you can't change, or at least, can't change as easily - is your 'voice', I think.

    That being said, I love the different 'voices' that writers put forth. I think it's only natural to read somebody else's writing and then think yours doesn't measure up or needs to be changed and then perhaps try to mimic that which you admire in that person's writing. I know I've done it and I guess it's okay to a certain extent, but then you still need to let your own voice come through.

    I mean, how boring would it be if we all wrote the same and told the same stories? That would be like having a blog and the only people that commented were the two contributors...

  2. Well I can't speak for everyone else, but I've been too busy with NaNoWriMo, so I haven't been here or any of my other usual online haunts as much as usual! BUT, this is a very timely topic then, since there is a lot of writing going on these days, so I'll comment as well.

    I agree with pretty much everything you said. Zyra and Push, you both definitely have different styles! But yes, that's good! Especially in the world of fanfiction, where by necessity we DO have a lot of stories that deal, at least in a broad sense, with the same characters and themes. Style and voice can make all the difference between an amazing fic (or, well, any story) and an average one.

    I also agree that the tone and style of what I'm reading at the moment creeps into whatever I'm writing. I was right in the middle of a re-read of Gone With the Wind when I wrote chapter 9 of Beyond Repair...and the fact that I still remember that so specifically probably says a lot about how OBVIOUS the influence is, at least to me as the writer. Now, chapter 9 happens to be mostly about Han and Leia, and they're having a pretty major argument, so channeling Margaret Mitchell probably wasn't totally inappropriate or anything...but at other times, when I'm reading and what I'm writing don't mesh together as well!

    Now, with my NaNo novel (in addition to not using Star Wars characters, gah!!!), I'm writing in the first person for the first time in years, first time ever for something longer than 5 pages or so! And I don't think I've got the same voice that I worked so hard to perfect in third person. Which makes me really nervous. But...it may be possible for an author to have more than one voice. I suppose a really good first-person narrative wouldn't even be the author's voice so much as the character's. And THAT'S so intimidating I don't think I could ever dream of writing for SW in the first person, from any character's POV!

  3. I was having too much fun writing an essay...yeah man, woohoo.

    I think I get too flowery sometimes. One of my favorite things to do is describe a setting. If I had no self control, I'm sure all I would do is describe every speck of dust and be done.

    And I agree, picking out elements you admire in other authors is natural, in fact I'd say it's important in developing your style. That's not to say go completely out of your way to rip someone off, but in working from someone else's work, you'll find other pathways, if you get what I'm saying. Like when I was younger, I copied the hell out of some artwork, but eventually it evolved on it's own and became something entirely my own (or that's what I like to think :P).

  4. I definitely think your artwork is totally unique. Didn't I even say that once in a comment on something you posted a long time ago? So you know I really mean it, because it was unprompted :) It's funny too that you say you love describing settings because I HATE that! I mean I hate writing them myself, not reading them. I often leave it out entirely until later I realize that the reader will have no idea what the setting looks like if I don't tell them. And then I proceed to do a crappy job describing it ;) I would write in all dialogue if I could, I think.

    First person is tough for me. I may have tried once or twice to use it for a Han and Leia story but it just didn't work for me.

    Your analogies are usually good. Although I do remember once or twice pointing to one paragraph that had three of them and telling you that you might want to tone them down a bit ;) It's tough though, because each of them was good!

    Good call on the writer's voice, too. Unfortunately that is another thing I'd have a really hard time trying to describe.

  5. Sorry, I had to get my booty shake on, uh, I mean dance practice. =)

    I definitely agree with what everyone has said. I think it's interesting that you can copy someone else's style and come out with something entirely your own. I have read a recommendation to keep around some books that you admire the style of for inspiration.

    I also find it intriguing that you can learn to be more descriptive. I think it helps to be very wordy in your first draft. You can always cut back later.

    I actually have a hard time thinking of metaphors. My mind doesn't work that way much yet.

  6. Thank you Zyra. Lol, see dialogue is always the last thing on my mind! I tend to get stuck and I have to go back and fill it in.

    First person is always a nightmare for me as well.