One of the distinct skills of writing is styling. Styling is key to any writing because it gives identity – the fingerprint of an author’s writing, unique and distinctive – and obvious, to those who know what to look for.
It’s from that sort of analysis that we know William Shakespeare’s works weren’t written by Shakespeare, but by another playwright with the same name.
Joking aside, it was from a statistical analysis of word pattern and distribution that one study associated ‘Robert Galbraith’ with J K Rowling, shortly before she was revealed as the actual author. But you don’t need a computer to analyse style; it’s a long-practised human art. If you’ve read enough material – know enough about the mechanics of written English – it’s not difficult to figure out whether a particular author wrote something.
The reasons why that’s possible run to the heart of styling as an art. It’s the author’s voice. It is what makes their writing distinctive – what makes us want to read it.
Authors who can control style usually leap to the top of the game. Ernest Hemingway, for instance, is instantly recognisable for his sparse descriptions and short sentences mixed with long flow-of-thought passages. Pushing deeper, the secret was what he left out – forcing the reader to work and drawing them through the book. Part of that was content, but part was also due to style – showing us how the two work together. He did it quite consciously.
That is the key strength of styling; it integrates with the rest of writing.
Problem is, many authors don’t consciously know how to control it. Not really. That’s not too surprising either; it isn’t really taught properly. Well it is, but not enough, to my mind. Creative writing courses always focus mainly on other matters – content, characters, story. Non-fiction mainly focuses on structure.
And yet style runs to the heart of writing. The best structure in the world means little if it’s let down by incompetent styling. Take Dan Brown’s The Of Vinci Code (I know what I said). A fantastic novel, brilliantly structured – and let down, as far as I am concerned, by dismal research, over-use of melodrama, and – most heinously – styling of mind-numbing ineptitude.
It takes practise to get styling right. Lots of practise.
I’m going to be looking at styling soon, in this series – what it is, how to control it, and how to make it work for you.
Do you look to create a specific styling in your writing? I’d love to hear from you.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013
Coming up this week: more science, more writing tips, more humour and…well, just more…