It was a joyful shock to the system.
After many years of being aware but not entire confident of my writing style, I had a sudden realisation during my last piece of coursework. In other words, for the first time I experienced the sensation of being totally at ease with the way I write and the stories I want to tell.
I then wondered—what had caused this sudden feeling?
The answer was simple but mind-blowing; and I’d like to share it so that you too may go forth in style.
Your own unique style, that is.
La mode se démode, le style jamais (fashion changes, style remains)—Coco Chanel
In the same way that no two snowflakes are ever the same; so goes the way we write.
Give a group of writers a story brief with exactly the same plot, characters and setting and I’ll bet you £100 (but not really) that they’ll produce vastly different results (unless one of them was lazy and decided to copy).
Style has to do with our personalities as people, our preferences, our upbringing and the writers who’ve influenced us thus far.
Whether it’s your penchant for velvety vocabulary or the unique way in which you punctuate; there was never anyone like you, nor will there be anyone like you.
Why Do We Need to Develop Style?
Although the last sentence in my previous post sounded super romantic and everything, it’s humbling to know that we’re not born knowing what this is, or even when we’ve been writing for a while.
Developing our style is important because it’s an essential part of standing out as an individual—but I prefer to look at it in a different way.
I think developing style is about doing our writing the absolute justice by being an authentic reflection of who we are. When we’ve reached this point, trying to be ‘original’ isn’t necessary because we’ll inherently be different to every single writer out there.
Ironically, finding out who we are as a writer can be one of the biggest challenges to overcome—something that takes time.
But how much time?
How Can We Improve It? And How Long Does It Take?
I quoted Stephen King in a previous article about his take on improving style, namely to read and write as much as possible.
While this is the best advice anyone could possibly give, in reality I used to feel this goal was sightly vague and unattainable. I mean, how much would I have to read and write? When would I know what I was writing was ‘me’?
The truth is that we never stop learning and evolving. There’s never going to be a point where we write a certain way indefinitely and not take the story/novel we’re writing into account. After all, style should vary to best tell the story we want to tell.
But there is a stage where we reach a solid base; and I’m going to give fiction writers a quick tip on how to get there:
Sophie’s Surefire Tip for Quickly Improving Your Writing Style
Read shorter extracts of many different fiction/non-fiction books (and poems too) + do a relevant exercise after each new author/poet.
Let me explain.
Of course it’s essential to read whole texts for the joy of reading and to improve other elements of craft such as plot and structure. Yet using this technique to develop style (if that’s your Achilles Heel) is inefficient and takes a long time.
This I know from experience.
Alongside university commitments I can manage maybe two novels a month or three novellas. Did I see a huge change in my writing style by following this routine? A little, but nothing to write home about.
I did notice a massive improvement however when it came to the required reading for my studies.
Doing a creative writing degree means that I have to read many extracts of fiction and poetry, doing multiple writing exercises in between. Having this routine over a period of months has very quickly allowed me to reach the ‘solid base’ I was mentioning when it comes to my own style, and I feel it’ll be beneficial for you too.
So as an exercise, next time you go to the library, pick up as many novels/poetry collections as you can stagger home with. Don’t spend too long with each one, maybe a chapter at most.
After each book you pick up, grab your notebook/computer and try a writing exercise based on some aspect of the writing that appeals to you. This may link in with other elements of craft even if that wasn’t your focus—just go with it.
Maybe you choose The Master and Margarita and like the way Bulgakov uses an omniscient narrator, magic realism, or a loose sense of time.
There are many aspects to catch your eye and it’s about having curiosity to find the things you feel at home with.
—Don’t force a certain style.
—Allow other writers to naturally influence you, but never try to ‘be’ someone else.
—Never start reading a new author before you’ve written something, even if it’s just a short paragraph.
So what elements do you think make up your personal writing style? And which writers have influenced you the most in this area? I’ll tell you if you tell me:)
Until next time; happy writing^^,