Novel writing: style
Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 27, 2012 00:09
My final piece about writing novels is going to be rather broad, and this time about style. Previously I have addressed characters and conflict, essentially who and what happens in your novel. Style is more concerned with how your novel is presented and in what way is it written. Style is actually very important for any author, as distinguishing yourself from the competition can be the difference between getting published and joining the unfortunate demographic known as “unpublished authors.” Ask yourself: would Harry Potter have been a good a series if it was written in an epistolary (presented through documents, usually letters) style? (Answer: probably not, no).
Just to clarify, style isn’t simply picking a format in which to write your novel and running with it. Yes, that’s part of the process, and whether or not your novel has chapters can be relevant, but what’s more important is that the style in which you write suitably supports the text itself. If you choose not to organize your novel with chapters, does that help in comprehension of the meaning of the novel? If you choose to tell the story from the perspectives of several characters, is there a point in doing that? Consider how the structure of your novel affects the story itself, and choose accordingly.
Structural decisions are only half of what makes up a novel’s style. The second half is writing style. Are your sentences long, florid and full of complexities like Faulkner? Or do you favor short, blunt sentences like Hemingway? Do you like to write in a more archaic mode, like Tolkien, or a more modern one, like Rowling? Maybe your novel is satirical, and a style reminiscent of Vonnegut would be most appropriate. If you’re opting for something more casual and conversational, maybe take a look at the style in which Bill Bryson writes for inspiration.
Of course, the mark of a great writer is having a style recognizably their own. However, it certainly helps to imitate the greats when developing your own style.
The idea of style also encompasses the concept of mood and tone. The words and metaphors you choose for a particularly tense scene are (hopefully) going to be different than the ones you choose for a more relaxed part of the novel. Punctuation used creatively can also help build the mood of a moment. Similarly, your use of literary devices like alliteration, analogy and allusion should have a point. Is irony apropos for that particular moment? Or, is a more humorous tone better suited?
In closing, style carries enormous weight when it comes to novel writing. A book without good style is like a salad without dressing. But in order to make your style not only wholly yours, but also good, there’s only one thing to do, and that’s practice. If I say this in every article I write this year, the point would not be emphasized enough. Sitting down and actually writing is the most helpful part of producing a novel. That may seem obvious, but at least in my experience, sitting down to write has always given me more insight than trying to plan out the whole project beforehand.