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Do You Have Style?

Author News Advice Blog 5 May 21 by Lorenzo Samuel, author of speculative fiction writings. In the last (5 Feb 21 issue) Author News advice blog, I discussed how to make your plot enthralling. If you don’t recall the points that can make your story great, here they are again: 1. Is the story original? 2. Is the plot enthralling? 3. Is the author’s style superior? 4. Does the story have emotional impact? 5. Is the story memorable? This month we take up 3. Is the author’s style superior?

As we usually do, first look to what words mean. By style I mean the way of using words to express thoughts and ideas. Is the word just the right one to express what the author means, and is it easy to understand by the casual reader? A fancy word, usually derived from Latin may escape understanding, whereas an Angle-Saxon word might not. For instance, the word “impact” is derived from Latin. It implies the force of objects coming together. A general meaning to this word. The Angle-Saxon word “thud,” on the other hand, and if the author means “thud,” has a definite meaning. You can even hear it in your mind. “Thud!”

The next word we need to understand is “superior.” According to my dictionary, “superior” means higher in quality, excellent. You read something and think, wow, is that good writing or not? It stands out; however, not such that it pulls one’s attention off the story. Virginia Woolf had a marvelous style; it was part of the story she was telling. Take that style away, and she would be just another author.

A superior style enhances the story, adds to it, fleshes it out, gives it life. So, how does one go about achieving a superior style?

Your style derives from your voice. So, what’s voice? you say. Each one of us has a unique voice: the words we use, how we string those words together, the sound and readability of our sentences and paragraphs. Grammar shows us what is expected by readers and those who listen to us. The rules of grammar do not hold us all prisoner to the same voice however. Writers using the rules of grammar still string out their words and sentences uniquely. We read a well-known author, and he or she sounds different from another author just as popular, yet we know one from the other. And each adheres to correct grammar.

The study of grammar can be overdone. Don’t waste your time on it. “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White is a 70-page book, yet it is all you need to learn the rules of grammar. I review it ever 6 months.

Back to voice for, after all, voice is the starting point of superior style. Here is what I do: 1. Read a lot in and out of my genre. 2. Write. After a few hundred thousand words, style should stand forth to be examined. 3. Practice. Every time I read a noteworthy book, after having set it down, I go back over it and copy a paragraph. Then I write that paragraph out from scratch until I get it perfectly.

Not that I’m after a superior style to copy for my writing. It helps me break habits that get in my way to my own superior style. Don’t forget ‒No one has a voice like you. You simply must develop it and make it superior.

In the next issue of Author News, we’ll take up point 4 of the judging points: Does the story have emotional impact?

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