Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
An excerpt from The Magic of Fiction
from Chapter 16, “Refining Style”
All writers have a style. That style may not be clear until a writer has written several manuscripts or many, many articles and short stories, but writers do have favorite sentence constructions, favorite words, even favorite punctuation choices.
A fiction writer’s style is revealed in the way he presents his story. It includes everything from the use of literary devices—alliteration, amplification, euphony, personification, and so forth—to the tone he uses for his narrators to the lengths of sentences and paragraphs.
All the dozens of choices a writer consciously or unconsciously makes regarding presentation are what give his stories a particular feel and sound. Even a distinctive look. The collected choices make the writer’s works recognizable.
The good thing about style is that you have one—you don’t have to worry over creating one for yourself.
What is tough, however, is knowing that you’ll likely want to refine your style over time and that you’ll need to make changes to style for particular stories or for certain characters. The hardest part of making changes may lie in determining how to accomplish those changes.
When you write, you make many style choices unconsciously, out of habit. You may personally think in similes, so your characters end up using them. You like short sentences, so many of your sentences are naturally short. Therefore you may have to consciously work at changing habits and usual choices in order to create different effects, to create a feel or rhythm different for one story or character.
Yet writers don’t necessarily recognize the components of their own style. To know your style, you’ve got to examine the elements that go into style and evaluate your writing relative to those elements.
To strengthen your writing, you don’t need to create a style out of nothing—you have to discover and refine the style you already possess. You have to put the distinctions of your style to work for genre and the types of stories you write.
Writers leave traces of themselves in their stories through the many choices they make. They leave their mark through style.
Once you’re aware of the possibilities for style and of your own style habits, you can consciously choose to change your patterns as you write and, more importantly, as you edit.
An analysis of your writing style probably shouldn’t take place when you’re actively writing, but it could happen when you edit. Or you may want to tackle an analysis between writing projects. If you’ve written for a long time or have a couple of novel manuscripts completed, you’ve got plenty of material to analyze. If you’re just starting out, you may want to wait until you’ve got more text to work with. But even if you’re a new writer, knowledge of the factors that constitute style will be helpful as you create, if only to spark awareness of style’s components and influences.
Exposure to style elements can give you an awareness of options you’ve never considered. An analysis of style elements may introduce you to the missing style ingredient you’ve been searching for.
Read more about the writer’s style in The Magic of Fiction.
Join us all week—March 13 through March 17—for more excerpts and other Launch Week festivities to celebrate The Magic of Fiction.
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