This post originally appeared HERE on November 8, 2011
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.
*The quickie challenge is tagged in the sidebar, literally just a bunch of stories of Han and Leia having quickie sex. So, enjoy.
**I still think this is one of the most clever analogies I've ever read.
***And I still do this all the time, I can't seem to stop.
****In doing more reading of actual published books it has become apparent to me that lots of authors have very different styles. Some write in very interesting ways that are pleasant to read. Others write more straight forward like I do. Both ways get the story across, so it's ok to be more like one than the other and not feel "less than" if you aren't writing in some other way you think you "should" be writing.
One final note, one of the most unique writing styles I've come across is the late, great Carrie Fisher. I have never read anything from anyone who writes quite like she does. It's so unique to her that I don't think that it could be replicated. But I also think that life would be boring if everyone wrote like her. So, embrace your style and write the way you write.