When writing a novel we make all kinds of choices. We have to decide what to keep and what ends up on the cutting room floor. We have to decide which characters will take the spotlight and which ones will live to have their own moment in the sun later on. There are various plots to consider, dialog, should this chapter end here…or there?
All that’s just the beginning. We haven’t touched on all the decisions that need to happen after the re-writes have been done and you’re ready to roll into production and marketing.
For the most part, all of these are very conscious decisions. But there’s one that may not be so obvious: Your writing style.
Everybody’s got one whether they know it or not and often times we can’t see what that style is until someone else points it out to us. If we copy someone else’s style, it’s usually blatantly obvious, but that’s when we make a conscious effort to do so. On the other hand, if someone says your writing reminds them of another author, that could be a good thing. You have the same kind of flavor, but you’re not an outright imitation. You’ve managed to put your own unique spin on the style and made it your own.
You could try to set out to create your own style, but your best bet is not to try at all. Defining your writing style is a journey of discovery and it’s one that never stops. Your style will constantly evolve and change over a lifetime of writing. And the more you make a conscious effort to define it, the more you run the risk of sounding stiff.
However, there are a few things you can do to help naturally bring out your style.
Read. Read a lot. Read as much as you can from as wide a range of authors as possible. Really look at how your favorite authors construct a story or how they present their characters. Pay attention to the authors you don’t like, too. In the art world we often hear “I know what I like when I see it”. When people say that, they’re saying they don’t understand why they don’t like it, just that it doesn’t appeal to them. Make a point of figuring out the why and that will help you with the how.
Write. Also a lot. So often we get caught up in our writing fears (is it good enough, does it make sense, will people like this…) that we avoid doing anything at all. Just write. Not everything has to be a polished, final piece. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: That’s what first drafts are for. Think of these writings as your sketchbook with words. Whether you write them by hand on actual paper or keep a file on your computer, or write creatively in a game everyday, no idea ever goes to waste. You may end up writing something you’ll use later on.
Using Your Voice. All of us have our own way of speaking. That voice comes through when we write as well. If we don’t use certain words in real life, why use them in writing? Unless that’s the way a specific character speaks. Take some time to really listen to yourself. When you write, write as if you are speaking out loud to a real person right in front of you. Your personal voice will be the strongest factor in determining your writing style.
Clear, Not Clever. There’s a time and place for detailed description. There is also a place for small talk and chit-chat. You don’t want to overwhelm your readers with wordiness. That kind of writing is exhausting for your audience to read. Too much of anything is rarely a good thing. I remember reading one author who seemed to never use the same word twice. Couple that with his tendency to go on for pages and pages of description, it made for some cumbersome reading. Needless to say, that book was set aside shortly after the first chapter.
Stereotypes and Clichés. This goes for description as much as it does for the characters and the overall story. Sometimes there’s no way to escape a stereotype or cliché. The trick is to take it and give it a twist. There really isn’t anything new under the sun, but if you put some thought into it, you can at the very least come up with an unexpected element.
Know Your Tools. Words are the writer’s primary tools. We also have a multitude of writing techniques and ways of constructing a story. There are all different types of literary terms like foreshadowing, irony and alliteration. Learn what these tools are and think about how you can use them in your writing.
Basically, defining your style is like going to a buffet. Try everything at least once. Go back for seconds on what works for you and toss the rest. Eventually all those pieces you liked so much will evolve into one singular style that is all you.