Welcome back to ‘Write It Now’, an ongoing series on the how and why of writing.
I’m relaunching the series today with the first of several posts on writing style. What style is, why we need it, what it’s about, and how to do that hardest of all writing tasks – getting that style under control.
The key to style is control. Specific styling is a matter of personal taste, though prevailing general styles change with time. Different genres or writing fields also demand particular stylings, within wider frameworks of what readers expect – and it is up to the author to be able to meet that.
Just now, as we roll into the second decade of the twenty-first century (where DID the last third of the twentieth go?) what we call ‘good’ writing is increasingly informalised, increasingly immediate. Yet for writers hoping to publish and earn money from their work, there’s a need to be sharp.
Don’t forget, half humanity is out there in web-land, and a chunk of those want to be writers. For most, that translates as ‘novelist’, though writing is a much broader field. But that’s by the by. No matter how good you are, somebody out there will be better. The bar has been raised. The onus is on writers to be good, if they are to be heard above the noise. And when it comes to style that means being on the ball.
Why? Because style is one of the tools authors need in order to take the reader on an emotional journey.
All writing has to do this, non-fiction included. Everything – articles, letters, blog posts. All of it.
Good styling these days doesn’t mean riddling the text with adjectives. Usually it involves a mix of short and long sentences, and a fair application of grammatical rules. Breaking the rules can help give what I call ‘eyebrows’ to that style, but make sure you know the rule first, and why it’s used, because only then can you control the rule-breaking – and control your style. It’s the control that counts. More on that later.
These days, good styling is also about the gaps. Hemingway showed us the way, decades ago; he was a master at it, and one of the creators of the current trend towards sparsity and informality. The power of his writing came from what he didn’t say, not what he did. And the trick was knowing what to leave out.
That’s still true today.
Good styling is also about being unobtrusive – of which, more next time.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013
Coming up this week: fun science geekery, more writing tips – and, well, just more…