In literature, writing style is the manner of expressing thought in language characteristic of an individual, period, school, or nation. Beyond the essential elements of spelling, grammar, and punctuation, writing style is the choice of words, sentence structure, and paragraph structure, used to convey the meaning effectively. The former are referred to as rules, elements, essentials, mechanics, or handbook; the latter are referred to as style, or rhetoric. The rules are about what a writer does; style is about how the writer does it. While following the rules drawn from established English usage, a writer has great flexibility in how to express a concept. The point of good writing style is to
- express the message to the reader simply, clearly, and convincingly;
- keep the reader attentive, engaged, and interested;
- display the writer’s personality;
- demonstrate the writer’s skills, knowledge, or abilities;
although these are usually evident and are what experts consider the writer’s individual style.
Choice of words
Diction, or the choice of words, is obviously a central element in every writer’s style. Although good diction is partly a matter of trial and error, of tinkering with sentences until they sound right, it is also a matter of following certain general preferences that careful readers and writers tend to share.
Some methods for using diction effectively in writing:
- Use a dictionary and thesaurus
- Seek a middle level of diction
- Call things by their names
- Avoid redundancy and circumlocution
- Avoid clichés
- Avoid jargon
- Avoid obsolete, archaic, or invented words
- Avoid slang, regional expressions, and nonstandard English
- Avoid qualifiers
- Avoid fancy words
- Use words in their established senses
- Avoid offensive or sexist language
- Say no more than you mean
- Be as concrete as your meaning allows
- Use logical terms precisely
- Put statements in positive form
- Make metaphors vivid and appropriate
- Prefer vivid nouns and active verbs to adjectives and adverbs
Choice of sentence structure
Sooner or later, a writer will have the essential elements of formal sentence correctness under control and will want to find the best ways of making sentences convey meaning effectively: how to phrase statements definitely, place coordinate thoughts in coordinate structures, subordinate to sharpen the relation between main assertions and modifying elements, eliminate unnecessary words, vary sentence structure, maintain consistency of tone, and smooth the general flow of words. Seemingly minor improvements—the moving of a clause from one position to another, a shift from the passive to the active voice, even a slight change in rhythm—can make the difference between drab sentences and pointed ones.
Some methods for writing effective sentences:
- Avoid irrelevancy
- Make real assertions
- Rely on the active voice
- Coordinate to show that ideas belong together
- Repeat words, phrases, and clauses for emphasis
- Make series consistent and climactic
- Subordinate to show which is the main statement
- Subordinate to avoid monotony
- Subordinate to break up lengthy compound sentences
- Choose an appropriate means of subordination
- Place subordinate elements where they will convey the exact meaning
- Subordinate in one direction per sentence
- Be concise but do not omit necessary words
- Break the monopoly of declarative sentences
- Vary the order and complexity of sentence elements
- Vary the length of the sentences.
- Be consistent
- Avoid distracting repetitions of sound
- Listen for sentence rhythm
- Use parallel construction
- Keep related words together
Choice of paragraph structure
The most important unit of meaning in every literary work is the paragraph. Although each sentence conveys a thought, a literary work is not just a sequence of, say, eighty thoughts; it is rather a development of one central thesis through certain steps. Those steps are paragraphs. Within an effective paragraph the sentences support and extend one another in various ways, making a single, usually complex, unfolding idea.
Apart from outright incoherence, choppiness, or long-windedness, perhaps the most common flaw in paragraph construction is rigidity of presentation. Having something to say, the writer merely says it—and goes on to do just the same in the following paragraph. As a result, the reader feels, not like a participant in the writer’s thought, but like someone receiving instructions or being shown a rapid succession of images.
Some methods for writing effective paragraphs:
Note how rewriting the familiar sentence, "These are the times that try men’s souls." by Thomas Paine, changes the overall impact of the message.
- Times like these try men’s souls.
- How trying it is to live in these times!
- These are trying times for men’s souls.
- Soulwise, these are trying times.
Compare the following passages, and note how the authors convey their messages in different manners, as a result of their choices.
Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2 (1599–1602) by William Shakespeare:
- HAMLET. I will tell you why; so shall my anticipation prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the king and queen moult no feather. I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors. What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how expressed and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not me; no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.
A Tale of Two Cities (1859) by Charles Dickens:
- It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Memories of Christmas (1945) by Dylan Thomas:
- One Christmas was so much like another, in those years, around the sea-town corner now, and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six; or whether the ice broke and the skating grocer vanished like a snowman through a white trap-door on that same Christmas Day that the mince-pies finished Uncle Arnold and we tobogganed down the seaward hill, all the afternoon, on the best tea-tray, and Mrs. Griffiths complained, and we threw a snowball at her niece, and my hands burned so, with the heat and the cold, when I held them in front of the fire, that I cried for twenty minutes and then had some jelly.
"The Strawberry Window" (1955) by Ray Bradbury:
- In his dream he was shutting the front door with its strawberry windows and lemon windows and windows like white clouds and windows like clear water in a country stream. Two dozen panes squared round the one big pane, colored of fruit wines and gelatins and cool water ices. He remembered his father holding him up as a child. "Look!" And through the green glass the world was emerald, moss, and summer mint. "Look!" The lilac pane made livid grapes of all the passers-by. And at last the strawberry glass perpetually bathed the town in roseate warmth, carpeted the world in pink sunrise, and made the cut lawn seem imported from some Persian rug bazaar. The strawberry window, best of all, cured people of their paleness, warmed the cold rain, and set the blowing, shifting February snows afire.
Letter from Birmingham Jail (1963) by Martin Luther King, Jr.:
- Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
Not to be confused with Character's voice or Grammatical voice.
Writing coaches, teachers, and authors of creative writing books often speak of a writer's voice as distinguished from other literary elements. However, as voice is often described vaguely, this distinction may be only superficial. In some instances, voice is defined nearly the same as style; in others, as genre,literary mode,point of view, or tone.
- Bradbury, Ray (1971). "The Strawberry Window". A Medicine for Melancholy. New York: Bantam.
- Crews, Frederick (1977), The Random House Handbook (2nd ed.), New York: Random House, ISBN 0-394-31211-2
- Dickens, Charles (2000) [First published 1859], A Tale of Two Cities, London: Penguin Books, ISBN 978-0-141-19690-9
- Eastman, Arthur M.; Blake, Caesar; English, Hubert M., Jr.; et al., eds. (1977), The Norton Reader: An Anthology of Expository Prose (4th ed.), New York: W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 0-393-09145-7
- Gardner, John (1991), The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, New York: Vintage Books, ISBN 0-679-73403-1
- Hacker, Diana (1991), The Bedford Handbook for Writers (3rd ed.), Boston: Bedford Books, ISBN 0-312-05599-4
- Lamb, Nancy (2008), The Art and Craft of Storytelling: A Comprehensive Guide to Classic Writing Techniques, Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, ISBN 978-1-58297-559-7
- Mack, Maynard; Knox, Bernard M. W.; McGaillard, John C.; et al., eds. (1985), The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, 1 (5th ed.), New York: W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 0-393-95432-3
- Ross-Larson, Bruce (1991), The Effective Writing Series: Powerful Paragraphs, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 0-393-31794-3
- Ross-Larson, Bruce (1999), The Effective Writing Series: Stunning Sentences, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 0-393-31795-1
- Rozelle, Ron (2005), Writing Great Fiction: Description & Setting, Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, ISBN 1-58297-327-X
- Sebranek, Patrick; Kemper, Dave; Meyer, Verne (2006), Writers Inc.: A Student Handbook for Writing and Learning, Wilmington: Houghton Mifflin Company, ISBN 978-0-669-52994-4
- Strunk, William, Jr.; White, E. B. (1979), The Elements of Style (3rd ed.), New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., ISBN 0-02-418220-6
- Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, Springfield: G. & C. Merriam Company, 1969
- ^Webster (1969)
- ^Sebranek et al. (2006, p. 111)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 100,129,156)
- ^Strunk & White (1979, p. 66)
- ^Hacker (1991, p. 78)
- ^Ross-Larson (1991, p. 17)
- ^Sebranek et al. (2006, pp. 85,99,112)
- ^Strunk & White (1979, pp. 69,79,81)
- ^Ross-Larson (1991, pp. 18–19)
- ^Sebranek et al. (2006, pp. 21,26,112)
- ^Gardner (1991, p. 163)
- ^Sebranek et al. (2006, p. 112)
- ^Strunk & White (1979, p. 69)
- ^Ross-Larson (1999, p. 18)
- ^Strunk & White (1979, pp. 66,68)
- ^Crews (1977, p. 100)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 100–105)
- ^Hacker (1991, pp. 187–189,191)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 105–106)
- ^Hacker (1991, pp. 176–178,181–182)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 106–107)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 107–108)
- ^Hacker (1991, pp. 166–172)
- ^Lamb (2008, pp. 225–226)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 108–109)
- ^Hacker (1991, pp. 194–196)
- ^Strunk & White (1979, pp. 80–81)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 109–111)
- ^Hacker (1991, pp. 175–176)
- ^Hacker (1991, p. 179)
- ^Hacker (1991, pp. 180–181,192–193)
- ^Strunk & White (1979, pp. 75–76,81–84)
- ^Lamb (2008, p. 225)
- ^Strunk & White (1979, p. 73)
- ^Lamb (2008, p. 227)
- ^Strunk & White (1979, pp. 76–78)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 111–112)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 112–113)
- ^Hacker (1991, pp. 183–185)
- ^Crews (1977, p. 114)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 114–116)
- ^Hacker (1991, pp. 190–191)
- ^Strunk & White (1979, pp. 21–23)
- ^Crews (1977, p. 116)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 116–117)
- ^Lamb (2008, pp. 228–229)
- ^Strunk & White (1979, p. 19)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 117–121)
- ^Lamb (2008, p. 229)
- ^Hacker (1991, pp. 151–152)
- ^Lamb (2008, p. 224)
- ^Strunk & White (1979, pp. 71–72)
- ^Crews (1977, p. 129)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 129–130)
- ^Crews (1977, p. 130)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 130–131)
- ^Lamb (2008, p. 223)
- ^Strunk & White (1979, p. 18)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 131–133)
- ^Hacker (1991, pp. 110–111,116–117)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 133–134)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 134–135)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 135–136)
- ^Hacker (1991, pp. 111–113)
- ^Crews (1977, p. 137)
- ^Hacker (1991, pp. 114–115)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 137–138)
- ^Crews (1977, p. 138)
- ^Hacker (1991, pp. 118–119)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 138–140)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 140–141)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 141–142)
- ^Hacker (1991, pp. 126–130)
- ^Lamb (2008, pp. 222–223,226,228)
- ^Strunk & White (1979, pp. 23–25)
- ^Crews (1977, p. 143)
- ^Hacker (1991, pp. 161–162)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 144–145)
- ^Hacker (1991, pp. 157–161)
- ^Lamb (2008, p. 226)
- ^Strunk & White (1979, pp. 32–33)
- ^Crews (1977, p. 145)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 146–148)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 148–149)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 149–151)
- ^Gardner (1991, pp. 150–154)
- ^Lamb (2008, pp. 227–228)
- ^Hacker (1991, pp. 121–124,155–156)
- ^Lamb (2008, p. 223)
- ^Strunk & White (1979, pp. 26–28)
- ^Lamb (2008, pp. 223–224)
- ^Strunk & White (1979, pp. 28–31)
- ^Crews (1977, p. 156)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 166–167)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 157–160)
- ^Hacker (1991, pp. 80–81)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 160–161)
- ^Hacker (1991, pp. 78–80)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 161–175)
- ^Hacker (1991, pp. 83–93)
- ^Strunk & White (1979, pp. 15,70–71)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 175–179)
- ^Hacker (1991, pp. 99–106)
- ^Crews (1977, p. 179)
- ^Hacker (1991, pp. 99–106)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 179–181)
- ^Hacker (1991, pp. 97–98)
- ^Lamb (2008, p. 226)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 181–183)
- ^Crews (1977, p. 183)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 184–185)
- ^Strunk & White (1979, pp. 15–17)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 185–192)
- ^Crews (1977, pp. 193–196)
- ^Strunk & White (1979, p. 67)
- ^Mack et al. (1985, pp. 1923–1924)
- ^Dickens (2000, p. 5)
- ^Eastman et al. (1977, p. 1)
- ^Bradbury (1971, p. 164)
- ^Eastman et al. (1977, p. 810)
- ^Lamb (2008, pp. 198–206)
- ^Rozelle (2005, p. 3)
- ^Crews (1977, p. 148)
- ^Rozelle (2005, p. 3)
- ^Lamb (2008, p. 209)
- ^Gardner (1991, pp. 24,26,100,116)
- ^Lamb (2008, pp. 201–202)
- ^Gardner (1991, pp. 158–159)
- ^Lamb (2008, p. 198)
Definition of Style
The style in writing can be defined as the way a writer writes. It is the technique that an individual author uses in his writing. It varies from author to author, and depends upon one’s syntax, word choice, and tone. It can also be described as a “voice” that readers listen to when they read the work of a writer.
Types of Style
There are four basic literary styles used in writing. These styles distinguish the works of different authors, one from another. Here are four styles of writing:
Expository or Argumentative Style
Expository writing style is a subject-oriented style. The focus of the writer in this type of writing style is to tell the readers about a specific subject or topic, and in the end the author leaves out his own opinion about that topic.
In descriptive writing style, the author focuses on describing an event, a character or a place in detail. Sometimes, descriptive writing style is poetic in nature in, where the author specifies an event, an object, or a thing rather than merely giving information about an event that has happened. Usually the description incorporates sensory details.
Persuasive style of writing is a category of writing in which the writer tries to give reasons and justification to make the readers believe his point of view. The persuasive style aims to persuade and convince the readers.
Narrative writing style is a type of writing wherein the writer narrates a story. It includes short stories, novels, novellas, biographies, and poetry.
Short Examples of Style in Sentences
- If it sounds like I’m writing, then I prefer to rewrite it.
- “I think it’s a good ide,.” said Jenny.
“You can imagine the outcomes!” retorted Emma, pushing the door open.
Reluctantly, Jenny followed.
- The sunset fills the entire sky with the lovely deep color of rubies, setting the clouds ablaze.
- The waves waltz along the seashore, going up and down in a gentle and graceful rhythm, like dancing.
- A trip to Switzerland is an excellent experience that you will never forget, offering beautiful nature, fun, and sun. Book your vacation trip today.
- She hears a hoarse voice, and sees a shadow moving around the balcony. As it moves closer to her, she screams to see a gigantic wolf standing before her.
- From the garden, the child plucks a delicate rose, touching and cradling it gently as if it is a precious jewel.
- What if you vote for me? I ensure you that your taxes will be very low, the government will provide free education, and there will be equality and justice for all citizens. Cast your vote for me today.
- The deep blue color of the cat’s eyes is like ocean water on the clearest day you could ever imagine.
- The soft hair of my cat feels silky, and her black color sparkles as it reflects sunlight.
- This painting has blooming flowers, rich and deep blues on vibrant green stems, begging me to pick them.
- Our criminal investigators are famous for recovering clients’ assets, as we not only take your cases but represent truly your interests.
- Our headache medicines will give you relief for ten hours, with only one pill – and without any side effects. Try it today.
- Tax raising strategy is wrong because it will cripple businesses. We should reduce taxes to boost growth.
Examples of Style in Literature
Here are some examples of different writing styles from literature:
Example #1: The Pleasures of Imagination (By Joseph Addison)
“The pleasures of the imagination, taken in their full extent, are not so gross as those of sense. … A man of polite imagination is let into a great many pleasures … A man should endeavour, therefore, to make the sphere of his innocent pleasures as wide as possible, that he may retire into them with safety … Delightful scenes, whether in nature, painting, or poetry, have a kindly influence on the body, as well as the mind, and not only serve to clear and brighten the imagination, but are able to disperse grief and melancholy …”
This is an example of expository writing style, in which the author describes advantages of imagination with facts and logical sequence, and tells his delight of imagination. Then, he discusses its benefits and finally gives opinions in its favor.
Example #2: Summer Shower (By Emily Dickinson)
“A drop fell on the apple tree,
Another on the roof,
And made the gables laugh,
The breezes brought dejected lutes,
And bathed them in the glee;
And signed the fete away.”
This poem gives an example of descriptive style. Ms. Dickinson describes a summer rainstorm in detail, with beautiful images, so that the readers can visualize this storm in their own minds as if it is actually happening.
Example #3: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (By Samuel Taylor Coleridge)
“It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.’
By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?
The bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,
The guests are met, the feast is set:
Mayst hear the merry din.”
In this poem, Coleridge uses narrative style, as he tells a story about the ancient mariner. He uses dialogues, disputes, actions, and events in a sequence, thus providing a perfect example of the narrative style of writing.
Example #4: Dorian Gray (By Oscar Wilde)
“The studio was filled with the rich odor of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden… The sullen murmur of the bees shouldering their way through… or circling with monotonous insistence…”
This is a good example of descriptive writing style since the author gives visualizations, feelings, description of a location and details about bees that could be seen and heard.
Example #5: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (By Mark Twain)
“Pretty soon it darkened up and begun to thunder and lighten; so the birds was right about it … and here would come a blast of wind that would bend the trees down and turn up the pale underside of the leaves …”
Here, Twain has demonstrated a narrative style, as well as used colloquial words in presenting this passage, as expressed through the voice of a young Southern-American boy.
Example #6: The Raven (By Edgar Allen Poe)
“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary…
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!”
Here, the poet crafts a story of longing and desolation. The poem reads like a tale, containing a proper beginning, middle, and end. It has narrative elements like characterization, symbols, plot elements, and resolution that make it dramatic.
Example #7: Smoke (By Henry David Thoreau)
“Light-winged Smoke! Icarian bird,
Melting thy pinions in thy upward flight;
Lark without song, and messenger of dawn,
Circling above the hamlets as thy nest;
Or else, departing dream, and shadowy form
Of midnight vision, gathering up thy skirts;
By night star-veiling, and by day
Darkening the light and blotting out the sun;
Go thou, my incense, upward from this hearth,
And ask the gods to pardon this clear flame.”
Thoreau describes the intensity of the smoke that helps form a colorful image in the minds of the readers. He uses metaphor to compare smoke to “incense,” or an “Icarian bird.” He also describes “star-veiling” and “shadowy” and let the readers imagine smoke.
Function of Style
A unique literary style can have great impact on the piece in which it is used, and on the readers. When authors write and put their ideas into words, they have many choices to make, which include: words, sounds, logic, sentence structures. However, different authors use different literary styles that depend on their distinct expression, and their utilization of these choices. And their choices create their niche.