A Few Tricks on Writing Style

I don’t consider myself an expert on writing by any means, but I can tell you that developing your own personal writing style is one of the most important things you can do as a writer. Your writing style is your literary identity, and it can make or break any story you come up with. It’s taken quite a while for me to figure out the way I like to write, so I’ve listed below a quick cheat sheet of advice that has helped me along the way.

1. GRAMMAR POLICE

I’m a big believer that it’s any writer’s moral obligation to know the ends and outs of the language they use. [I’m also a big believer in the fact that the second someone sees that you’ve written something like “Your in trouble” or “Their inside the house”, they’re going to A.) quietly judge you, and B.) go find a more grammatically correct story to read.]

Now, we as writers will make mistakes from time to time. I’m sure there are some grammatical issues in this blogpost right now… But a writer understanding the extent of proper grammar is the equivalent of any superhero understanding the extent of their power. All you’re doing is writing words. Make sure you use them correctly.

2. SHOW AND TELL

Showing and telling in writing are mutually exclusive. You’re either doing one or the other, and [SPOILER ALERT] readers prefer to be shown, not told. Showing evokes something from your reader, whether it’s an emotion or a mental image or an idea. Telling leads to bland writing and a bored expression on your reader’s face. Example:

Telling: Jessica is a high school student.

Showing: Jessica stood at her neighborhood bus stop, lamenting the fact that she could’ve gotten a ride to school with Claire if her parents weren’t such control freaks.

THREE: BE CONSISTENT

Can you imagine cruising along in a story and all of a sudden the story changes from first person to third person? Or present tense to past tense? It’d be weird, right? Once you commit to how you want to tell your story, it’s important to stick to it. You don’t want to keep head faking your readers to the point that they have no idea when, where and with whom the story is happening. [John Green’s Paper Towns is an okay exception to this rule, although I wasn’t much of a fan of it… Be careful with it]

The same goes with perspective. If you’re in the middle of writing a story and all of a sudden you jump from inside one character’s head to another character’s head, you lose the tone of the story and confuse the heck out of everyone trying to keep up. That said, it’s totally fine to write from different perspectives as long as you keep it concise and let your readers know when it’s happening. [Example: a lot of people like to title chapters with the name of the character who represents the perspective.]

 

4. LESS IS ALWAYS MORE

Have you ever read a story that spends more time on descriptions than the actual story? NO ONE HAS TIME FOR THAT. And I promise your readers are capable of conjuring up mental images of your main character’s room without you describing in explicit detail all the different band posters that are collaged on their wall. Leave some stuff left to the imagination—it makes things more enjoyable for your readers AND makes your job as the writer a little easier, so you can focus on more important things (like that complex character arc that drives your plot, for example. That’s the type of detail you want to add in).

 

5. EMBRACE THE COPYCAT

First and foremost, I am 100% NOT saying that you should plagiarize anyone here (please don’t do that; it’s rude). What I mean is, there are reasons why your favorite author is your favorite author, and I think a great way to improve your own writing is by building on what you like most about other writers. Everyone has to start somewhere, right? And before you know it, you’ll slowly start to create your own writing style by piecing together all of the best parts about your favorite authors. It’s the bomb.

6. AND FINALLY, LEARN THE RULES SO YOU KNOW HOW TO BREAK THEM

This is, without a doubt, my favorite piece of advice I’ve ever received. Learn everything you can about the rules of writing, so when it comes time to break them, you know exactly how to do it. And you can do it spectacularly.

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