Why is it that two different writers could write in the same genre, write about the same ideas, plot devices and themes yet one writer creates beautiful prose while the other makes the reader never want to read again?
Every time I write a chunk of prose that really sings through the initial first draft, I feel good about myself…until I go back the next day and read it only to find it full of errors and downright horrible writing. What we are discussing here is the one wrench in the writer’s toolbox that means more to a reader than one would think: style.
Style is the distinctive, formal, or characteristic manner of expression in words. It is not what is written but how it is written, how the words form ideas or images on the page. But what if your style is soft and weak like a jellyfish? What if you are spending too much time fretting over the way it is phrased? Here are a few tips to help you spray some WD-40 on that rusty old tool:
- Find Your Voice – I write books in third person singular. I have written in all other points of view, but third person singular seems to be my strongest point of view. Pair that with the snarky, sometimes sarcastic, satirical use of colloquialisms and you have yourself a Roger Colby original. Is what you are writing, the way you are writing it, too much like someone else? Find your own way of stating things. We can copy what we like, but don’t be too much like someone else. Figure out what you like (and more importantly what your beta-readers like) and write in that vein. You will find your own voice to be the most comfortable.
- Find an Honest Reader – I have formed a cadre of beta readers who read my writing with a magnifying glass, readers who are not my mother or my best friend, readers with nothing to lose if they tear my writing to pieces. The best way to energize your style is to write for the beta-readers and the listen to them and write accordingly. Stop being a pretentious boob and change the way you do things based on what these beta-readers tell you. You won’t be sorry.
- Find a Good Book – If you want to improve your style, you need to be a good reader. You need to be reading classical literature, best-selling contemporary work, and even read a few plays if you have trouble writing realistic dialogue. Good writers are good readers. I read a wide variety of work from a wide variety of genres and authors. Yes, I mostly write science-fiction, but I read everything from Steinbeck to Philip K. Dick.
- Find Out How To Write Good Imagery – Good writing causes almost a minor case of hallucination. The reader no longer sees words on a page but is taken somewhere. This comes with much practice and is not won overnight. We have to think like we are describing something that the reader has never seen. Of course, in this modern age of television, the reader may have already “been there and done that” as well. Don’t go overboard, but your prose should describe an environment enough so that it transports them somewhere rather than causes them to feel like they are reading the back of a cereal box.
- Find Words to Cut – One bit of advice I have is get the word count down on the page and then cut it in half. We usually write about half of what is really needed. I know this sounds minimalist, but if you can be more careful about what you write, work very hard to illustrate with words rather than doodle, you will make for a much better writer in the long run and teach yourself some valuable lessons about the craft along the way.