Writing Styles and Tone of Voice
Your writing style is just like your fingerprint - it’s unique. Some writers are blunt and to the point, others are prosaic, some are erudite and some are poetic. Each writer has his or her own ‘voice’ within writing, a way of expressing the story to the reader. How you do that is the subjective part, and sometimes it can take years to find that ‘voice’. The writing reflects your personality rather than someone else’s.
Writing style is all about the way you put together words and sentences. There is no right or wrong way, other than to be clear and concise and convey the message of the story, and that is precisely why some readers prefer one writer to another. It’s personal preference, their idea of good writing style. I personally like Stephen King’s writing and Dean Koontz – each has their own distinct style and yet they write similarly. I like to read Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy but I don’t like Frederick Forsythe’s style.
Some writers are straight to the point, gritty, while others have an elegant softness to their prose. Some like to write long-winded descriptions, others prefer the cinematic speed of jumping from one scene to the other to keep the pace. Some gush, others stand back.
Whichever the type, they’re all individual styles.
Contemporary genre v. Literary
Some obvious styles fuel many debates. Do you write contemporary (genre) style, or do you prefer literary?
Genre fiction is usually plot driven; fast paced with myriad characters and will usually have the reader hooked until the last page. There is a multitude of different genres and your story would fit neatly into one of them.
It’s assumed that most people like to read genre fiction because literary fiction belongs to the realm of fiction snobs, the literati, the intelligent writers whose works transcend normal fiction. Not so. The word ‘literary’ is an overused term which has come to mean cultural snobbery by default. Literary fiction is, however a distinctive style.
This type of fiction is normally character driven, the consensus being that these stories tend solely to concentrate on character and meander along at a gentle pace and don’t really do a lot, and because they’re character driven, the thrust of the whole story isn’t as strong as a plot driven piece.
The other difference is that literary novels can have long, beautifully written, flowery descriptions which don’t actually get to the point and don’t normally fit into a usual fiction genre. The mode allows the writer to be somewhat indulgent with style over substance and invoke the entire tone of the piece which rarely changes throughout.
Of course, being literary doesn’t mean it’s snobby. It’s simply another way to express your ideas more eloquently and elegantly. Literary novels are not written to sound intelligent or deliberately flowery, but it’s merely the style of the author. If you write this way, then you have a literary style.
The tone and style of writing is also an individual trait. It’s not what you say, but how you say it. The way you express your attitude, ideas and how intonation of the voice bears clarity to the meaning of what you write, is what makes the tone of writing important.
Think of the tone of voice we use when we speak to someone – is it warm, cold, sarcastic, dark or lighthearted? It works the same way in writing because how you write your scenes/chapters is the tone the reader picks up on. The tone you use will affect the way the reader views the story, the events and the characters. The tone represents the mood of the story.
If you are new to writing, it may take a while to find your style. It’s not an instant process and only emerges as you write more and learn about yourself as a writer. Slowly your style, your ‘voice’ will emerge. It will be different to other writers because it’s fashioned from your personality. Don’t make the mistake of copying your favourite authors because while this emulation might seem gratifying, the end result can be stilted and contrived – it’s not really you.
Once you find your style, you’ll have more control over how the reader reacts to the stories you write because of the way you write, the tone of your voice and the individuality that is your personality.
The style that emerges might have a sense of immediacy or gritty realism, or perhaps there’s a hint of poetic nuance in your prose. People often say they can spot my writing because I have a poetic sense of voice; it’s a definitive style, a signature recognisable by my readers. It’s not quite genre based and it’s not truly literary, it’s somewhere in between, but it’s me.
Writing style and tone of voice make writing an individual art form. It has the ability to make your writing stand out and be noticed. It has the ability to turn a good writer into a great writer. Above all, it’s about you.
Next time: The process of story writing.