Writing With Style

Today I want to talk about style. Not pantser vs plotter style, but something closer to (and maybe expanding upon) Elements of Style style. Isn’t English fun? Let’s talk about this kind of style and why it may or may not matter to you.

Let’s see if I can make this clearer than mud

Your story’s style basically boils down to the last layer of polish you put on your drafts before you’re ready to call them finished. It’s things like sentence structure, word choice, the amount of detail you put into your description, and a whole lot of other little things.

I’m working on posts to explain how to tackle different angles of your style, but for now it might be easiest to think of it from a painter’s point of view.

Some writers are like Picasso. Their work gives us a complete picture, but it’s a little blocky. Maybe the pieces aren’t quite where some of us would put them, but that doesn’t mean those authors are not telling beautiful stories.

Other writers are more like Michelangelo. Their work is detailed and lush. The words flow and feel lifelike. Every piece falls exactly into place. It’s rich and enchanting, but sometimes it’s just too much. It can be too wordy. Purple prose might be a problem. Or they might get so caught up in the details that they lose track of the story.

What’s your style?

I think it’s best to find a middle ground. Use simple language for the most part, but be prepared to pull out all the stops when you get to important or emotional scenes.

Finding that middle ground might mean different things for different authors. For me it means putting more visual details into my stories to elevate my readers’ experience. Other writers might need to work on issues like economy of language, grammar issues, vagueness, word choice, atmosphere, sensory description, narration, and a number of other things. I’ll get more specific about these topics in other posts, so please subscribe if you want updates, or check back from time to time.

Does it matter?

Style is one of those picky things. It’s so subtle that some people don’t notice it at all. With some readers, it’s going to go right over their heads. They’re focused on what happens in the story, and they don’t care how beautiful the author’s words are. Other readers will struggle to stay interested in a book that isn’t highly polished.

I’m in the second group, if you were wondering. I can get so sucked into somebody’s elegant turn of phrase that I may not notice plot holes or inconsistencies the first time I read something.

Whether it matters probably comes down to how you want to publish.

Let’s go back to our Picasso and Michelangelo metaphor.

In the (roughly) six months since I subscribed to Kindle Unlimited, the majority of indie books I’ve seen are Picassos. Whereas the books I’ve read from traditional publishers tend to be Michelangelos. It’s not 100 percent on either side–there are Michelangelo indie books as well as traditional Picassos, and plenty of books published either way fall somewhere in the middle–but this seems to be the case most of the time.

A book with less flashy style is not necessarily bad.

Picasso’s art is amazing; he helped launch an entire movement in the art world, remember? As long as the author has found their audience, and the book resonates with that audience, that’s really all that matters. Market accordingly and you should be fine.

However, I suspect Picasso-esque books are less likely to find a niche in the traditional world because agents and editors are taught to look for Michelangelo stories. If they do accept a Picasso, they’re probably going to want the author to make some pretty heavy revisions. Making those revisions will be up to the author, of course, but they might lose their contract if they refuse. Traditional publishing is a tough gig. Unfairly so at times.

I’ll revisit style soon, so please check back

I hope today’s post made sense. This is an introduction to a series of posts about different pieces of the big style picture, so it’s possible things will fall into place in a few weeks if I wasn’t quite clear enough today. Feel free to leave a comment or contact me if you have questions, though. As always, you can use those social media buttons down below to share this with your writer friends. Thanks!

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Image Credit: Annie Spratt

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16 Comments

  1. If I ever wrote a work of fiction, it’s likely that sentence structure and word choice will be dictated by Grammarly, due to my dyslexia ha ha ha. But I’m sure more talented writers can make use of this post better than me

    1. A lot of writers use Grammarly or similar apps, like ProWritingaid or AutoCrit to help make their work more accessible. There are some famous authors with dyslexia, too. Kim Harrison is a pretty big one.

      There are readers out there who don’t notice much about a writer’s style. Having interesting characters and an engaging plot are the most important things.

    1. Thank you! A lot of this is stuff a line editor would look for, so you might get in touch with one if you have concerns. I do have upcoming posts that will touch on how to look for stylistic issues in your own writing, though.

  2. I’m only a writer of blog posts (as opposed to novels), but I still feel like this is relevant even for that! Your readers needs to be able to recognise your style and your writing and develop that attachment to you!

    Katie | katieemmabeauty.com

  3. I loved this. At the moment, I am just a blogger but I found this super helpful! I am planning to write an ebook (an inspirational book, not a novel) before I clock 20 haha and I also want to write ebooks about blogging as time goes on when I feel like I have enough experience to write a blogging ebook and this has really broadened my knowledge and brought out some amazing musts. I have always been a kind of person who wants to give my audience a glimpse of my personality through my writing, I make sure I do just that and I feel like in writing, there’s nothing better than having people interact with you based on the slight knowledge they have of you due to the personality your writing puts out there. Lovely lovely post xx

    1. Your blog is great. I’m sure your ebooks will be wonderful, too. With fiction, I think it’s better if the narrative voice is more in line with the character’s personality, but in a nonfiction or inspirational book, it’s better to inject your own personality and voice. It just makes the books that much more engaging. I think that’s why some writers, like Anthony Bourdain, were able to build such large and loving audiences–they were open and honest in their writing. They weren’t just sharing events, they were sharing pieces of themselves.

  4. Explained nicely. You compared styles with the artists. I may struggle or get confused with something here and there because I’m not familiar with the niche ins and outs, although I’m an avid reader. As far as style is concerned I’ll just add my perspective to it. I think avid readers for life do recognize style and might also buy some author’s book because he she is their favourite based on their writing style, so they’ll buy any upcoming book of theirs, good or bad. I’ve seen many do it including myself. Thanks for the info and insight. Xx
    Isa A. Blogger
    http://bit.ly/39f9FN0

    1. Thank you, Isa! I agree; some readers do buy books from certain authors just because they like the style. I feel that way about several authors.

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