Ever thought about what “writing style” is? Sure, words like “dynamic,” “climactic,” “vivid,” and “organic” may come into mind and they can be used to describe writing styles: “Wow, his writing is so abrupt and shocking!” But what about the writing style itself? What is a writing style?
Definition of writing style
A writing style is the way in which ideas and messages are expressed. Typically, this manifests in how the form and substance of the text are managed towards a particular purpose or intended tone. An instructional textbook, for example, would be written with a serious and stern tone, as it discusses facts and evidence and little or no conjecture.
Types of writing styles
While it may be said that there are many styles of writing, the traditional notion of writing styles boils them down to four main types:
Each writing style has a particular purpose, tone, and substance. Ultimately, it is based on the kind of material that is being worked on.
This type of writing style aims to provide a vivid depiction of a certain scenery. There is heavy emphasis on the particulars of the scene and how—in the way they are placed within the environment—they play together to create a world in which the reader is immersed. Common examples where the descriptive writing style is used can be found in fictional literature.
Below is an excerpt from cosmic horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Color Out of Space,” in the first paragraph.
West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut. There are dark narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, and where thin brooklets trickle without ever having caught the glint of sunlight. On the gentler slopes there are farms, ancient and rocky, with squat, moss-coated cottages brooding eternally over old New England secrets in the lee of great ledges; but these are all vacant now, the wide chimneys crumbling and the shingled sides bulging perilously beneath low gambrel roofs.
Examine how Lovecraft begins his story with a vivid description of the scenery, telling much—but not too much—about the environment. The excerpt does not contain narrative value. Rather, it immerses the reader in the world that Lovecraft created. The best kind of descriptive writing is one that is sufficiently detailed and immersive.
If the explanation of facts, concepts, and theories are the concern, the expository writing style is the most optimal choice. There is no direction or intent behind this style outside of explaining a particular topic or subject. The prime example of this style is textbooks, especially those which touch upon Math and Science.
Below is an excerpt from a PDF copy of “Introduction to Psychology” from MIT OpenCourseWare, accessible online for free:
Unless the researcher has a specific reason to believe that generalization will not hold, it is appropriate to assume that a result found in one population (even if that population is college students) will generalize to other populations. Because the investigator can never demonstrate that the research results generalize to all populations, it is not expected that the researcher will attempt to do so. Rather, the burden of proof rests on those who claim that a result will not generalize.
The writing style here is one of sternness and rigor. No time or space has been spared for opinion, emotion, conjecture, or personal interjections of the author. There are only concrete facts and explanation here.
As the name suggests, the persuasive writing style is used to convince the readers to accept a particular claim. Usually contained in persuasive writing is a number of points and evidence used to strengthen the stand of the writer.
Persuasive essays definitely embody the persuasive writing style. However, the style is not confined to those alone. Other texts, so long as they contain an attempt at persuading the reader towards doing something, can be considered as persuasive writing.
One such example is a recommendation letter:
It is with great pleasure that we offer our words of praise about Lance’s excellence during his time in our company. Adding Lance to your roster will greatly benefit your company in the long run. Thanks to his remarkable skills in finance, our stocks increased tremendously. He also conducted meetings that ended fruitfully and in great benefit to quarterly income. Lance also improved management relations with the general employee population, raising the overall effectiveness of the team by astronomical amounts. Lance is an invaluable member of any team. And so, with enthusiasm, we formally recommend him to be inducted into your prestigious company.
In the example above, the CEO argued that Lance would be a great addition to the company that he is applying to. After which, he provided supporting claims and evidence, proving his prowess in the previous company, that would substantiate his argument, ending with a remark about how Lance would be invaluable to any team.
This writing style is used when the writer attempts to tell a story. While the other writing styles usually concentrate on facts as they already happened, the narrative writing style is in motion—it depicts facts and actions as they are occurring within the timeframe set by the story. Hence, present tense is widely used in the story, unless the stylistic choice of the writer dictates otherwise.
Examples of where the narrative writing style is used can be found in short stories, novels, and other narrative prose or poetry.
An excerpt from famous poet Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” can be found below:
I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed, crying out: "Who's there?"
I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed listening;--just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall.
Though Poe uses the past tense here, he was able to simulate motion through the persona and the old man. Facts about the scenes unfolding are depicted here in a continuity, putting together a story which goes from event A to event B, so to speak.
The best writing style?
With all that said, it begs the question: what is the best writing style to use? When people ask this question, what they usually think is:
What writing style can get me a spot at the New York Times Bestseller list?
How can I be as good as Dan Brown?
Which words should I use to earn me a million dollars?
… And so on. These questions, though quite far-fetched from the original, are legitimate, and no one should feel ashamed for asking them. It is understandable: some people want to be the best writer out there. Technicalities such as grammar, vocabulary, sentence structure, and punctuation are being mastered in the effort of becoming the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. Most definitely, they would want to learn about the various writing styles and try to master them.
The thing is, however, there is no “best writing style ever.” In fact, the four recently discussed writing styles are declared as such because of a collection of survey data over an inexhaustible library of literary works over the history of mankind. It is not the case that these four were put together and then everyone just followed them. The author wrote the Epic of Gilgamesh—the oldest surviving work of literature—did not think, “Okay, I will be doing a lot of narrative and descriptive, and maybe a little bit of expository.”
Writing itself is a very fluid craft. Systems have been built on the idea of having an organized manner of doing it, and while they are significant in making the learning process of writing accessible, not one of them can truly and definitively pin down writing. If anything, they made a lot of progress in having a systematic usage of form and substance, but it is the creativity and innovation—the very soul of writing—that makes an incredible writing style. That is something that is not quantifiable by technicality.
If everyone was stuck with nothing more than technicality, we would not have spawned such renowned writers as Stephen King and J.K. Rowling. Even if we say that their writing styles are based on previous successful writers, Stephen King made his own deviations from H.P. Lovecraft and J.K. Rowling from J.R.R. Tolkien, enough to make them be their own distinguished writers. The same can be said of brilliant writers whose literary masterpieces were banned and considered controversial.
To answer the question directly, the best writing style is one that is right for you. A writing style is only as good as its writer. If the writer is incredible, so will be his writing style. The best writing style is one that matches the personality, tone, and mission of the writer. In terms of technicality, the narrative, expository, descriptive, and persuasive writing styles are still relevant. This time, however, they are mixed together to create an eclectic kind of writing style that matches the writer.
This is why Stephen King did not write the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and Douglas Adams did not write “The Shining.” The artwork reflects the artist: King wanted to delve into horrifically defamiliarizing the familiar, while Adams attempted to disillusion his readers with a deviously unserious tone in uncovering the expanse of an absurd universe. They aimed to make their own worlds based on their own visions and using the best writing styles for them. That is why they stood out among the rest—that is why you can, too.
Regardless of whether or not you will be as popular as Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, you will still be the author of your own world, created by the best writing style for you.
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