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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I've Got Flair - 10 Methods of Style Development

In keeping with the countdown theme, although what I'm counting down to I'm unsure, I thought we would look at some writing improvement methods. Gary Provost's book 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing provides a host of things we can employ to work at the craft of writing.

Style, we hear a lot about it. We, ok me, worry about our style, our flair, our oomph on paper. Without further adieu, I give you the 10 Methods of Style Development.

Think about it - What is style? Style is the way we express our ideas on paper. Form. That form defines the method(s) by which a story is told. Expressive, stolid, humorous, dramatic - each of us possesses our own personal style.

Where is the harmony? - Writing is no different than composing. Words versus mucial notes. However, our words are the notes. Read what you write - out loud. If you trip over the words, if they fall flat against your tongue; then you need to revise. When I get to a passage & my eyes begin to squint, my tongue flops to the dead position & my brain stumbles, I look for the offenders. Unified flow varies & is at the mercy of the material, but it needs to be there.

What's that you say? - Conversation is vibrant, alive. It has emotion. It has variety. When you're angry, you don't look at the offender & say, "Pardon me sir, but I am afraid I have been offended by thee." Out come the gloves & the dueling pistols. That's fine if it's period specific. But, if it's 1986, you might say, "Dude, I'm bad." Ok, bad joke, but you get the point. Spoken language has its own tempo, do your best to imitate it.

Sentences - Short, medium, long. Long sentences get old after a while. But, so do short. Long sentences draw out the action; short ones ramp up the intensity. Medium ones sometimes provide the cool down time the reader needs. As with words, sentences need to be varied.

Constructing Sentences - Noun, verb. The basics. Noun, verb, object - a little more to the pie. However, as writers, our calling card is the ability to slide from the norm & invigorate our sentences. "It was a dark & stormy night in the town of Bethel." Um, yeah, boring. "Bethel, that place where nothing ever happens, stood sentinel as the wind howled, the clouds growled & danger glowed in ominous corners." Yes, I know I'm reaching; work with me! I think you get the point. Move beyond - breathe life into it.

Dick & Jane - "You must write in complete sentences," the English teacher said. No, actually, you mustn't. Sometimes. The. Structure. Is best. When - not. It's up to you. Now, I wouldn't recommend an entire book of one or two word sentences. That is a marathon pace that hurts my calves just thinking about it. But, the well-employed incomplete sentence can add vitality, tension & breadth to your work.

The 'Show Me' State - We all hear, "Show, dont' tell!" This is the backbone of our work. "The sky is blue, the grass is green & everything in my world is peachy-keen." Um, ok - if you tell me so. Setting, description, character; these all evoke emotion. And, we are working hard to connect the emotional dots. Demonstrate; do not report. Get out your local paper, read the police blotter/recent arrests.

     'On Tuesday, June 2nd, one Mark Twain, was arrested for stealing a raft. He was apprehended at the   home of cousins Tom (Thomas) Sawyer & Huck (Huckleberry) Finn, his alleged accomplices. All three are being held until a bail hearing is set.'

Not the most exciting. Now, if you had seen this story on the 6 o'clock news, it would have more spice. Different perspectives, eyewitnesses; the whole sewing kit.

All in the Family - If the words are related to the same idea, then you should keep them together. You shouldn't start a paragraph describing an event, cut in something else & finish the first idea four paragraphs later. I would need to re-read that at least four times just to catch up.

Double White Lines, Please - "I went to the store, to the movies & ran over a dog." What? Lines of confusion. Of course, cleaning the sentence to say you went 'to run over the dog' would definitely get the reader's attention. Keeping the beat of the sentence provides symmetry.

Push ups will not help - Your style is your own. You cannot fake it, bake it or make it happen. But, you can develop it, improve it & make it dance. Everyone has a distinct storytelling flavor. Find yours & all of the other bits will fall into place.

Happy Writing,



  1. Are you putting these helpful hints on 3x5 cards so you can shuffle them and use them?

  2. I know, right. I was thinking about that very thing as I finished the post this morning. Some days, the therapy lies in reading my own words.

  3. Great advice, especially for the writer who is stumbling over one or more of the things you mention.
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

  4. Hey NR,
    That would be - ME. Style is an elusive beast to me. So, it helps to read it, write it & then read it again. Thanks for posting.

  5. You're like a little writing reference books. Thanks.

  6. Shellie,
    You are most welcome. Tomorrow however, will be a descent into something much more fun!