In writing fiction, “style” is defined, in the most simplistic terms, as the way a writer writes. It’s the “voice” a reader hears when they read a novel. It’s your preferred method of telling a story. Your style seasons the entire novel whether you want it to or not. While you might try to emulate another writer because you admire their work and enjoy reading their stories, you may come close, but your story will still have your unique brand of writing style.
A person’s writing style is a mixture of many elements. It’s about how you like to write. Writing style comes through your choice of words, tone, and syntax. It’s also influenced by your personality, attitudes, thoughts, likes, dislikes, and idiosyncrasies – everything that makes you who you are.
Point of View and Other Novel-writing Terms
Terms like “point of view” (POV), “narrative voice”, and “writing voice” are understandably confusing. They are so often used interchangeably with “writing style”. However, each term represents a different element of writing fiction.
Point of View refers to who, which character or narrator, is revealing the story – through whose eyes events, perceptions, and thoughts are being told. The most popular types of point of view are:
- first person
- third person, and
The narrative voice is defined as the characteristic thought and speech patterns of the first-person narrator. It’s also known as “persona”.
Writing voice is sometimes used interchangeably with writing style, and it does mean the same thing when referring to the writer. But when it’s used in reference to a character’s voice, well then we’re really back to talking about point of view. Please see my article on POV for more detailed definitions and tips on selecting the best one for your novel.
Developing Your Writing Style
As you can imagine, much could be said about writing style. Some writers like to write in short, crisp sentences. Some like lengthy, flourishing sentences. Others are fond of using metaphors and similes. Romance writers may write in a conversational style. Suspense writers may write with an urgency in their voice.
With every writer having their own style and the style nuances created by genre, there is much up for discussion. But let’s talk about some things that will help you understand and strengthen your particular style of writing.
Read your manuscript aloud, listening to the sound of your voice. From this exercise, you will hear what your readers will hear – the cadence and flow of your voice, and in essence, the story. You may find that you want to revise what you’ve written.
Record yourself reading your manuscript. Replay the recording, again listening for the sound of your voice and hearing what your readers will hear. Take notes on what you would like to revise.
Don’t write the way you speak! You may have heard, “Write the way you speak,” as the official line on writing style. But don’t do it. If you write the way you speak, you will most likely drive your readers to distraction, and to another novel. That is unless you have perfect diction, no pauses in your speaking, don’t use um, er, uh, or “if you know what I mean” after each pause in your monologue or conversation.
The best advice I’ve heard for understanding the problems with that old maxim is for a writer to record a few conversations – either their own or others (with their consent, of course) and then transcribe the recording. Write it down in dialogue format, word for word. See what you get. It’s probably not what you would use in a novel.
Writing Style Develops Over Time
The best way to identify your writing style and know the voice of your manuscript is to read it aloud. By practicing these tips, you will be able to discern what flows well in your novel and make adjustments for those pieces of narrative or dialogue that sound clumsy.
It takes time to develop a writing style, so be patient with yourself – just keep listening to your own voice until your story unfolds in a style that “feels right”, that you are proud of, and is one you believe your readers will love to “hear”.
Have you found your voice? What does it “sound” like? Are you having trouble finding it, or is it all over the place? I would love to hear from you, and I respond to all comments.
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