Thursday, April 6, 2017

From the Archives: Your Writing Style

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.

2017 notes:

*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.


  1. Writing styles are very interesting to think about. I feel like mine is really weird. I could go from having a really basic scene to three paragraphs where I think I'm all wise and insightful and in-depth describing stars.

    I want to say it was OtterandTerrier who came up with the idea of having a bunch of writers write the same scene and then compare them all. I think it's really neat how different people write from each other. Like it's our epigenetic as a writer.

    1. It was actually organanation! It's a really interesting idea, I'd be in

  2. I forgot to add, one interesting thing I find when going back to read these old posts to find ones to bring back up, I can almost always tell whether I wrote it or if Push wrote it. And not because I usually remember that I wrote it, just simply by the way it's written.

  3. Such an interesting topic, and I love that you're always very encouraging :D

    Right this moment, I'm in the middle of a writing slump (which is bad because I'm part of a challenge and the deadline is approaching), so my answer is "my writing style sucks".

    I usually tend to pay more attention and remember the things I don't like about someone else's writing than the things I do, because if they have a certain sentence structure or writing formulas that they repeat all the time, it gets tiring, and I'm a pet-peeve-y reader so I'll probably won't come back (example: the first two Aftermath books). But then yesterday, for example, I read KnightedRogue's new fic, and she does metaphores so well! That's her style, and it's in many of her fics, but to me it doesn't get old. Or another example would be Erin and Justine's very detailed descriptions! Reading their stuff puts me to shame, because they can make you feel like you're there, in the scene.

    I also have certain phrases that I seem to repeat a lot, though they change overtime, and sometimes I get really stressed thinking "did I do this before in other fic??" And adverbs. I love adverbs greatly :P

    I strive to achieve a balance of getting to the point in a straightforward way and being descriptive in a nice way, but I tend to get carried away with character/ship analysis. It's not always bad, but sometimes it makes me lose the point.

    organanation's idea mentioned above was that a bunch of people wrote either for the same general prompt, to see all the different scenarios we could come up with, or to write more or less all the same and then we'd put it up and we have to guess who wrote what based on the style. It'd be a fun exercise and a way to discover what other people think our style is!

    (btw, thanks for pointing us to the quickies!)

    1. Gosh, OandT, thank you! You are a fantastic author in your own right. Personally, I like your character descriptions: subtle and smooth, showing and not telling. That's what I enjoy about YOUR style. :)

    2. Aaah, you're making me blush!! 😊

    3. I am sorry to be SO late to the discussion. Real life is kicking my arse right now.

      Thank you so much for the compliment, Dessi, although I have to say my mouth dropped open in disbelief when I read it. I'm pretty sure I said, "Nawwwww, really!??" Because those detailed descriptions that Justine and I so enjoy writing sometimes feel to me like self-indulgent sludge that no sensible person would have the time or patience to read. Funny how self-critical we can be, eh.

      I get impatient and even bored sometimes with my own personal writing style, which I don't even really know how to classify or characterize. It's detailed, yes. "Rich" would be the kind way to describe it, but I also think it's sometimes a bit myopic. Too focused on detail, to the detriment of the story. [That is, it's usually that way in the early drafts. I do try to go back and layer in a bit more actual, you know, plot, such as it is, before I publish it.]

      I greatly admire all of the other writers (which I think is virtually everyone else active in the fandom right now) who seem to be able to tell a story concisely, to balance detail with pacing and to move the story along at a rate that generates tension and anticipation. I wish I could put down broad strokes and tell a proper story start-to-finish like Zyra does, write tight and exciting plot and pitch-perfect characterisation like KR, or master the art of show-instead-of-tell, like you do. I think the first story of yours I read was "Walk Your Days On A Wire" and it amazed me how you could show so much insight into the characters and their relationship, the emotional impact of recent events, in such a short piece of writing, with no dialogue. I think about the writing styles of others like DantSolo, Knitzkampf, Sue Zahn, Cindy Olsen, CV, JainaDurron, Push, CorellianAngel, Corellian-Smuggler, MandyQ, Madame-Alexandra and, stars above, Cicatrick, and just despair sometimes over my own poor scratchings. Not to mention all the other writers who are lauded everywhere I look, that I haven't yet had time to delve into. I guess all of those differences make the fandom interesting, though, and keep us reading variations on the same themes, over and over again.

      I like the idea of everyone writing about the same specific scene, each in her own way. It would be really awesome if we could do that anonymously, though, and then see if we can work out who wrote what, just by examining the style. I think the writer who'd be easiest to spot would be Knitzkampf. Nobody writes quite like she does.

    4. I'm so embarrassed, but THANK YOU, what a lovely compliment!! 💜

  4. I like the idea of writing the same scene/idea!

    I tend to be a dialogue heavy author - it has been the work of my betas and my writing group to get me to describe where everything is happening and stay consistently in one person's POV. I think you find your voice and then refine it - I found an old SW story I wrote back when I was first a fan (sadly, the only one I have left) and I can see my style in it but it was very choppy and very heavily influenced by the fact I was reading Mists of Avalon at the same time ;-)

    My beta jessebee is a completely different type of writer than I am but that works, because I will sometimes tell her "uh, I'm lost in the description over here" and she can tell me "emotional beat here!"

    I am a sucker for the same idea from different views - I rounded up a small sample of the TFA fix its, I need to do the same for "night of the ROTJ celebration" stories because boy, are there a lot of many and varied takes on how it should go, with pretty much every ship of the OT represented. That's what makes fandom fun - seeing all the different ideas of how things go.

    1. I definitely have a problem with sticking to one POV per scene. I'm trying to work on that right now. I think I've gotten better at describing and not having too much dialogue or just long sequences of dialogue. Sometimes, though, I feel like I'll try to explain something and then I come up with the most abstract paragraph that doesn't even make sense. Or, when I try to describe feelings. Like, there must be some invisible line at 'too deep'.

    2. Having a beta that knows what you do and what kind of corrections you need is SO good. I've had a few, but I usually feel like I'm bothering people, so--particularly now that I'm writing SW--I tend to ask around and have gone through a lot of betas. And of course, I don't just want someone to go over grammar and spelling, if possible, but to tell me if the plot makes sense, if the characters sound okay, if a phrasing is weird, but sometimes I go for a certain style and I get corrections on that, and it makes me feel self-conscious.

      Compilations of the same missing moment/trope sound awesome! "Night of the ROTJ celebration" is too big a challenge for me because I haven't settled on how I think it would go, so I've done the night before and the morning after instead. There's also "return from Tatooine", "Ord Mantell", and of course, "the trip to Bespin".

      Jaina, I'm having the same POV issue! I just like exploring everyone's thoughts! But I don't know if there's a limit for how deep you can go with describing feelings, if it fits the scene. I love it--that's why I read fic!

    3. The trip to Bespin, Bespin AUs, Han and Leia meeting AUs. This is what I love about fanfic; there are so many writers out there and they all have a different take or outlook on every little scene and there's so much you can do. Not one person writes a story the same way someone else does and it's amazing what people come up with.

  5. You guys are great. See, this is exactly why this is such an important topic to discuss. It's a good reminder that ALL of us have some envy of other writers, and think so many other writers are so much better than we are. Yet at the same time there are people who admire you and your unique style. It's like we see these cool, interesting ways other people write certain things and we're all jealous and for some reason seeing them do that, and knowing we don't do that, it automatically makes our brains think, "Wow, she is great at writing and I suck!" But that's not necessarily true. (ok, it might SOMETIMES be true, but probably not often)

    I also think sometimes when we try too hard to do something that doesn't come natural to us with writing, it just never flows as naturally. Like, sometimes you might think to yourself, hey, I want to be more descriptive. And then you might go overboard with describing something that, well, might be an apt description but also might not really be all that relevant to the story and was kind of unnecessary extra words.

    I'm like, the complete opposite of descriptive in my writing. I think it's pretty rare I even tell you what Han or Leia are wearing in a scene. It's often not really relevant, but describing it might help to set the scene. But because it's not really my thing, I don't feel too badly about just leaving stuff like that out and focusing more on things I like to write, like dialog.

    OtterandTerrier, I'm encouraging because I think it's good to really talk about these things and realize that we ALL feel this way. And every time one of us beats ourselves up over our own writing and thinks it doesn't measure up, another writer we really admire is doing the exact same thing. There is nobody who is immune to it, but maybe it helps to know that everyone else feels that way so we won't be quite so hard on ourselves.

  6. Yes, you can change your style! Or rather: you can evolve it. :)

    I don't know about you, but when I read the old, embarrassing stories of my past, my overwhelming assessment is that the writing style feels totally erratic. It's like I tried all the dramatic things without really knowing how to use style to make it click together. I don't know if this is a function of my age when I started posting or just being inexperienced, but that's what I see now when I look at my older stories.

    And then I found people whose writing styles were just so fascinating and intriguing. I started looking at the nitty-gritty of their writing styles: word choice, sentence structure, the way they move their plots, etc. And I made a point to mimic it - not in posted stories but just to practice. And I found things that I didn't like and things that actually seemed to help.

    For example, I looked at Ivylore's sex scenes and saw a bare, no-nonsense feel to it. And it was fun to play with, but I discovered that it is just not in my ball field. But then I took that same bare, no nonsense rule and put it to dialogue (another aspect of Ivy's that I find absolutely gorgeous) and THAT settled a bit easier. And it's something that I'm very aware of now, as I write.

    And it's an ongoing process; I still have a folder called "style" on my google doc page, where I try and imitate other authors. It's my private dressing room, where I try on new things to see if I can maybe create something new. I don't want my writing style to stay the same: I like being unpredictable and constantly changing!

    Does anyone else do this, too? Try on writing styles?

    1. I think that's what I try to do sometimes. How can I change my writing style just enough to better my writing or make it more enjoyable? Does this style fit me? Do I enjoy writing like this?

      I've been told before that I have a unique style, but I completely lack structure. I feel like- as far as my own structure goes- either I have no concept of the word or my structure is that weird train of thoughts that the characters have when I write them and then, somehow, we end up at the beginning again. Sometimes, I almost feel like that's part of my style. Probably not the greatest "style", though.

    2. A writing style dressing room!! That sounds so cool! I don't think I've ever consciously said "I'll try writing like this person" even as practice, but there are some times when I'm unsure and I re-read some of my favourite authors to see how they do it. I've done this especially for smut, because writing it makes me really self-conscious, I have no frame of reference of my own, and there's smut fics I like better than others and I aspire to write something that I'd like to read. So I don't copy them, but I try to see how they did it, what is it they did that made me like it so much, sort of using them as inspiration. I've also done it for when I want to write good kissing scenes, or action sequences.

      In general, I try to just change small things about my writing so that I won't sound the same every time, to make it better, but sometimes I also like to try different styles of my own for certain pieces. There was one I wrote that was Leia's thoughts after the kiss, and I wanted it to be rambly and not entirely structured, as if it was really inside her head. But I can't write like that all the time and try to tell a story.

    3. I love the idea of the writing dressing room!

      I've dabbled in other styles - I do at some point want to do a knock off of Hunter Thompson for what we call the Mexican Episode VII poster - it was this thing MTV put together for Ep VII which makes it look so much better than the movie turned out:

      You can see someone suggested that Poe be a journalist...

      The closest I've come is a story with no dialogue but it was more headcanon than story so...I can try and do excellent description and "in someone's head" stuff like my cohort jessebee and I feel myself pulling back. I've trained myself to be better at description and POV but it's very difficult!

  7. I've never really tried intentionally to mimic someone's writing style. I have on occasion found myself writing like someone if I was reading a book or something that had a clear style to it, I almost unconsciously temporarily adapted it.

    My issue is whenever I try to write in a different sort of way, it just feels all wrong. And I'm not sure if I think what I wrote sucked because it really does or just because it is so far off from sounding like "me" that I can't look at it in a normal sort of way. Like, I have ONE story where I wrote in first person from Han's POV. I think it's on here somewhere from one of the challenges. But it just felt so... odd to write that way. And I couldn't help but feel like it sucked because it's so hard to separate myself from the writing and looking at it as though Han was saying it in his head or whatever.

    Or like one time I tried writing Han and Leia as having some problems, and it just felt so wrong and I still don't think that writing was very good. I don't know if that was so much a style thing as a content thing, though.

    So interesting some of you try on some different styles. That must be interesting. Admittedly one of my issues currently is I just haven't written much anyway, and I certainly haven't like, worked on my writing or my style or anything in a very long time. For me more recently it's way more about what I'm trying to say than HOW I'm going to say it.

    1. I enjoy writing in a character's first person POV, though I don't write Han or Leia like that often (or,just write in first person often). I wrote a short Kyp Durron piece that was in first person and I really love it. Otherwise, I can't think of another one off the top of my head.

      It's funny you mention being influenced by other works you're reading while writing. I've found that happens to me a lot. I've written ... interesting ... scenes under the influence of whatever I'm learning about or reading.

  8. Off topic, but people here will probably be glad to hear Carrie will be in Episode IX using previously shot footage of her

    1. I read that, I'm glad they're going for that and I hope they do her justice!

  9. My usual writing style is pretty linear and narrative in my fics. I do like overly-long, complex sentences, and I need to watch that.

    I nearly always write third person, but recently I started trying to write a fic which would be six months of Leia's journal entries. I've found that difficult, because I am trying to write first person and in what I believe would be her writing voice. It is surprisingly difficult.

    1. I love Six Months!
      I don't even know how to describe my style. Since this post came up, I've been trying to figure it out and I don't even know what it is that I do. Although, one of my friends in Journalism once said that my style is "realistic".

    2. Thanks,Jaina...I need to get back to it. I need to get back to all of the writing - life gets in the way!

  10. This is a really interesting topic and discussion!

    I'm so new at this I really haven't thought about it much yet, so I'm not sure how I'd describe my own writing style. Most of what I'd written before, other than journaling, has been poetry, and I think that probably influences how I approach writing fic. There's a rhythm to my writing that I need to achieve or otherwise it doesn't feel right. Also, when I write poetry, I really enjoy searching for just the right words and metaphors, the right brushes and colors for the picture I'm trying to paint, if you will. I feel like to some extent that happens with my fic too, though I'm finding that unless I'm in just the right frame of mind, it's hard to do it well. I guess it also depends on the fic I'm writing: my one shot Blazing Star felt like it /needed/ to be more poetic, while I think my multi-chapter The Opening needs to be more balanced between poetry and pragmatism.

    I say all this but I'm constantly amazed at the beautiful metaphors and poetic prose of other writers like cicatrick and weary-hearted-queen. I wish I could do it that well!

    I know I also probably tend to overly focus on the emotion vs. action (or rather, as I see it, the emotional action vs. the physical action lol). That may be a good or bad thing, I don't know — part of my goal in writing /is/ unpacking the characters' emotional journeys, but I also want a good balance; I want those emotional journeys to be anchored in the physical world. I'm not sure if I do that well or not, but I try.

    I'm impressed at those of you who actively practice mimicking other writer's styles — that's dedication! I'm not sure how well I could do that, but maybe I'll try it sometime. I do notice that when I've been reading a lot of a certain author/writer, I tend to pick up certain stylistic elements from them.

    I really like organanation's idea of us all writing the same scene/idea! I may be new, but if y'all end up doing this and you'll have me, I'm in :)