The thing people will remember about what you write isn’t the concepts behind your work. When you read a story, it’s not the characters or the plot that really defines your enjoyment of the tale. No: the most important part of writing is the way in which you write – your style. You can have a marvelous concept for a piece, try to put it to paper, and still have it fall apart as you proceed. On the other hand, you can take a monotonous idea, one that’s been used to death, and still create a masterpiece. The difference between great – or at the very least, good – writing and poor copywork has all to do with your individual style.
Developing your style isn’t something you can follow a strict set of rules for. There’s no one “right” style; your own style is really just a compilation of the things you’re comfortable writing about and methods you use to write. Some people have a very flowery, flowing writing style. Others write in short bursts of thought and focus entirely on the main points of what they write. You could be either, or – most likely – you fall somewhere in between with your style. What matters isn’t learning a style, but finding your own style and developing it.
Though there’s no one definitive guide to mastering a style, here are a few tips that might help you along.
Most people write in the same way they talk. People who don’t use big words while talking to their friends tend not to use big words when they write. Sarcastic people are more prone to writing sarcastically. It’s not always exact, but if you try to write in a drastically different tone of voice than you speak in, there’s a greater chance of your writing sounding hashed-up and not genuine. Try reading what you write aloud once in a while: does it feel comfortable speaking it? If not, try to figure out how to write it in the manner you would normally speak.
Don’t write about things you don’t know about. If you try to write about political drama, for instance, without having been involved in political affairs (or the equivalent, even if it’s something like student government in college), there’s a chance that you will sound either forced or just completely infactual. Writers who handle complex, detailed worlds they’re not familiar with tend to familiarize themselves with what they’re writing about before they begin writing. (Tom Clancy comes to mind here.) If you aren’t comfortable with what you’re writing, it will show clearly in your writing style.
Likewise, if you don’t feel good with particular techniques, avoid them. A popular essay-writing method involves providing a contrary argument to a subject, followed by a counterargument. While it’s a useful technique, and one that adds credibility to your thesis, too many writers try just sticking out an argument, then rehashing the same facts they have already presented, which seems unorganized rather than effective. Similarly, quite a few creative writers tend to borrow from popular authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien or Douglas Adams, emulating them rather than using their techniques along with others. Often, the end result is a work that appears derivative, rather than a story that can stand on its own.
Developing a style is all about familiarity. If you focus on what you know, and if you try to write in the manner that you feel most comfortable rather than copying others, you should have no problem developing a unique style that others can recognize and enjoy as your own.
Rory Marinich is a graduate of the New Jersey Governor’s School of the Arts. Some of his writing can be found online here.