Let's get one thing straight. A lot of people search the term 'writing style' when they're actually looking for 'writing fonts'.
I know. I regularly get Google visitors who've typed in 'tattoo writing styles' or 'graffiti writing styles'. Clearly, they're not looking for 'writing style' at all but rather a collection of fonts they can refer to, copy, or learn from.
'Style' is different - more aligned to technique than anything else.
There are various official writing styles - but these are more specifically ways of constructing essays or theses rather than refering to what most writers regard as 'ways of writing'.
The APA style is set by the American Psychological Association and is basically a way of organizing information for reports and social science documents. Hardly of use to the average creative writer.
The MLA style dictated by the Modern Language Association is favored for college essays and english literature papers. Again, helpful when you're at school - but nothing a creative writer need worry too much about.
The Chicago style, or CMS, is most often cited as 'correct' for American English in that most editors and publishers aspire to using its recommended formats. First published in 1906, the Chicago Manual of Style is now in its 15th incarnation - and is the standard for writing non fiction in journals and magazines.
But what about fiction?
What's a writer supposed to refer to when it comes to developing an acceptable writing style?
Easy answer. Strunk and White's The Elements of Style.
It's an old book - first written in 1918 - but its rules (most of them anyway) are still relevant today. You can download a copy of the first edition from my Academy for free.
When it comes to fiction, writing style is often personal.
Your own mind - and your own sense of balance - will dictate how you put a piece of writing together.
Of course it's important to tighten what you do - to make your writing clearer, more succinct and therefore more powerful.
You need to look at your sentences and make sure you're actually saying what you mean - and meaning what you say.
The way to do this is to write first - and then be thorough with your editing afterwards.
It's much too hard to write perfect prose the first time around. For a start, you're not always sure what you have to say before you start writing!
So write first, then edit.
Edit out wordiness, cliches and qualifiers - the things we put in in speech naturally but clutter the writing when it's on paper.
Edit out the passive voice from your writing. Readers should be able to quickly identify the noun (the object in the sentence) and the verb (the doing word). Writing passively - where the verb often gets mistaken for the object - is not literary, it's lazy.
Edit out the big words, unnecessary adjectives, and reconstruct sentences into their simplest form.
Use the correct punctuation.
Your goal is to be understood, not to impress. Being understood - and using language effectively - impresses far more than hiding your meaning behind a fancy writing 'style'.
Because, perhaps ironically, the best writing style is invisible.
Rob Parnell's Writing Academy
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