So, here I am on a bright and fresh January day surfing the Great Blue Web, and I come across a picture of a bad 1980s outfit and it gets me thinking about writing…more precisely, it gets me thinking “what is style”? Can it be learned? Can it be improved? Can you just have bad style and that’s the way you’ll be forever (like that one woman who can’t let go of leopard print pants and blue eye shadow)?
Niiiiiice…yeah yeah, you know you did it too.
So that prompted a delve into the world of style…
I want to break down what style is in my eyes and look at how we can develop it into a finely honed weapon of mass destruction (or writing technique, your choice).
First, let me tell you what I think style is not:
Seriously. Just hear me out here. Voice is your unique voice bleeding onto the page. It’s your heart, your soul, your natural manner of expression, your opinions and thoughts and everything that wraps you up into the wonderful person you are. Writers get their knickers in a knot about this all the time, but it really is quite simple. Let’s take music as an example. When you hear Michael Jackson sing, you know it’s him. Doesn’t matter the song, doesn’t matter the style, doesn’t matter the words. You know it’s him – it’s his voice. Same with Whitney Houston, Bob Dylan, Sting, Elton John…you see where I’m going here. Voice is you. Still not convinced? Think of actors and the voices they have – Alan Rickman, Morgan Freeman, Will Smith, Maggie Smith – again, all individual voices.
Ahhh, but wait, I hear you say. I can’t speak my work. It doesn’t work like that.
Well, I’d argue that you’re wrong. Let’s look at artists…
If you know anything about art, you’ll see immediately this is a Van Gogh. Of course it is. It’s his signature “voice”. It’s not just his style. He is in that painting, heart, mind, soul and we can see it. Not a word was spoken. And yet his voice bleeds through the canvas. Same goes for a whole host of others – Monet, Munch, Picasso.
The list goes on in almost every artistic profession – you’ll know a Rennie Mackintosh piece of furniture when you see it, you’ll know a Michelangelo sculpture when you run across it. This is voice, not style.
Okay, okay, you’ve got it. Voice is not style.
So, smartypants, what is style?
Glad you asked. Style is the technique you choose to use to express yourself. Are your a singer who uses falsetto, baritone, fast beats, sharp notes? Are you a painter who uses oils, watercolors, dramatic emotion, subtle intelligence? Are you a bold and aggressive sculptor making use of bold lines, strong elements, or do you like abstract concept that stirs the mind? And as a writer…are you florid in your writing? Beautiful sentences, deep and meaningful scenes? Or do you like a light skim across the pages, your prose deftly skipping from one word to another?
These are your choices of form and technique (down to word choice, sentence construction, grammar, syntax and every little writing technique you can possibly imagine). And you can alter and change these at your wish. You can develop them, learn them, grow them…in short, you can do to style what you wish.
The best thing? You can use voice to develop style and style to develop voice. Who says every element of craft has to be one and to its own? No, like tangled threads they knit together to create the tapestry of your book, short story, poem, tanka…whatever your chosen form happens to be.
And here, to sum up my thoughts is this: