In almost every Open Pen critique, you guys have asked about improving your writing style. This past summer, I worked on developing my writing style, so I thought I would share a tip that I discovered. The exercise is really simple, though it takes a little bit of time.
However, before I share the tip with you, I want to briefly cover the definition of writing style. Quite simply, style is the way an author writes (it is also called the writer’s voice.) Mark Twain write in a very different style than Mary Shelley. Style really depends on two factors: the personality of the writer and the writer’s audience. Though we are going to focus on the first factor in this post, an example of the second factor is that I write in a different style on this blog than I write in my novels or academic papers.
But for this post, I want to focus on the first factor of style: the personality of the writer (that would be your personality.) A good number of people struggle with figuring out who they are and what their personality is in general, and teens (like me) struggle with this even more. However, I have found that I can develop my writing personality much easier than I can figure out my personality in real life. So don’t worry. 😉 It may take time to figure out who you are, but you can develop your writing style in the meantime.
My tip for finding your own voice is simple: Copy a variety of other writer’s styles until you find your own.
Pick a writer with a distinct style, and then write a short story or a scene copying their style as well as you can. After you finish, you will know exactly how you feel about the style– what you liked and disliked. Then pick another writer’s style and write another scene with this new style. Evaluate what you think about this style, and then pick another writer and repeat.
I found that after copying a few author’s style, I began to draw certain facets of their style from each. Suddenly, I had my own personal hodge-podge of styles, and then I discovered that I had subconsciously added my own twists. In the end, I have found my own writing style (or I am very close– I am still tweaking it and incorporating my new style into my writing.)
To make things easy for you, I have compiled documents with short excerpts from several authors with very distinct styles. I would suggest starting with these excerpts and your personal favorite voices (note: you don’t necessarily want to copy your favorite author’s writing style– you want to copy your favorite writing style. Some of the author I love have really bland writing styles, but I love their books for other reasons.) This list only contains narrative excerpts, but if you are trying to develop a writing style for other types of writing, post in the comments, and I will see if I can find documents showing different types of styles in a different type of writing.
- A Study in Writing Styles_Oscar Wilde
- A Study in Writing Styles_Victor Hugo
- A Study in Writing Styles_C.S. Lewis
- A Study in Writing Styles_Ernest Hemingway
- A Study in Writing Styles_Jane Austen
- A Study in Writing Styles_Mark Twain
- A Study in Writing Styles_Mary Shelley
- A Study in Writing Style_William Faulkner (This is a link not a document)
This exercise takes time and effort (but doesn’t any exercise?). But here is a little tip, so that you don’t feel like you are wasting your time writing useless short stories or scenes. I have found that these short stories where I am copying an author’s style are really great for contests, if I polish them up. (Also some contests actually ask you to copy a writer’s style– for instance, I think there is a Faulkner contest, but you will have to look that up.) So beyond helping you find your own style, these exercises can be useful for contests.
If you have any suggestions of writers with really distinctive styles, let me know in the comments, and I will be happy to add them to the list. I tried to find a variety of unique voices, and if you know of some other unique writing styles, I will put up excerpts from them, too I’d also love to hear how you work to develop your own voice in your writing!