Style doesn’t come easily to the writer. It often takes years before she discovers her voice. While craft can be taught, style is something that comes organically from each writer. It is a matter of personal expression, the way in which she shapes the world she sees through language, syntax, grammar, etc. Most writers, like painters, mimic their favorite writers. This is a part of the process, but eventually every writer must look at her own work to discover her style.
One important process to discovering style is, of course, examining other writers. That means reading. Examining the style of writers that you love will not only give you an idea of what style is, but it will also give you an indication of what you love, what you enjoy, what you see as the most effective way to express your own voice. A good place to start is your own library. Take down one of your favorite books and reread it. Take notes on what impressed you in terms of word and syntactical choices. Look at the book’s tone. Is it humorous? Is it atmospheric? Look at how diction plays a role in both tone and theme. Pay close attention to how your favorite writer made the particular choices she made.
Another good way to process another writer’s style is to read interviews of that writer. Interviews are a great way to get directly into the head of that particular writer and discover his or her writing process. Poets & Writers magazine publishes a lot of interviews with writers and poets. Recently, Henry Holt and Co. published The Novelist’s Handbook, edited by writer Daniel Alarcon (Lost City Radio). The Novelist’s Handbook is a compendium of questions about the writing process posed to today’s working writers. It’s an eye opener not only in how writer’s write, but also in how each writer has her own process toward her work.
Diction is one of the most important aspects of writing. Understanding how diction works will help in discovering your particular style. This requires reading your own work to discover your diction choices. What type of words are used consistently in your work? Do you tend toward an elevated or Latinated word choice or is your word usage colloquial, informal? Syntax is also important to a writer’s style. For instance, simple noun-verb-object sentences speak to one particular style, as opposed to more complex sentences that rely heavily on clauses, conjunctions, etc. Punctuation marks can also be stylistic. If you find you have a love for semi-colons, then that speaks to a stylistic choice on your part. It defines who you are as a writer.
Another way to discover your writing style is to have it told to you. Workshops are great precisely for this reason. When you’re surrounded by other writers, you have readers who will be able to pick things up in your writing that you might possibly miss. Specifically ask other workshop members for what they pick up on in your style. Let them know this is a particular concern of yours. They’ll not only be able to give you a genuine idea of what is consistent in your work, but also help you determine what works and what doesn’t work. This will help you hone your style more sharply.
These are just some ways to help you discover your style. Always keep handy a set of writing tools to help you with your work. This includes a dictionary, a thesaurus, and of course, the bible on writing style, Elements of Style. When you commit to your writing, eventually your own voice will come through, and you’ll have a style that is all your own.