Thursday, February 12, 2009

How To Write With Style

Here’s an article I wrote for my Squidoo lens called Style: A Tricky Concept. The basis for the article came from a section in The Ultimate Copywriter.

The concept of writing with a particular style is a difficult one for many writers to grasp.

That might be because they're not sure what it means, or because style is something they think of as being personal and individual. But even so, there are things you can do to help build style into your writing.

Needless to say, you could write a book or two on the topic of style alone. This article is not meant to be the definitive statement on the subject: its aim is to get you started writing in a manner that will make it easier for your own style to shine through. And for that we'll turn to one of the stylistic masters of the twentieth century, Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway began his writing career at the age of 18 as a junior reporter for The Kansas City Star. He only worked there for 6 months, but that was enough. He used the Star's style guide as the basis for almost everything he wrote after that:

1. Use short sentences.
2. Use short first paragraphs.
3. Use vigorous English.
4. Be positive, not negative.

That's all you need to know to inject style into your writing. And here's why...

1. Short sentences are easier to read. They get the information across quickly. They break up paragraphs into digestible chunks. And they stop you from constructing complex sentences full of commas and semicolons.

2. Short first paragraphs help get your story or article underway quickly. They give readers the crux of what you're saying and make them want to read on. They're the hooks that lure readers into the story line.

3. Vigorous English pulls, moves, races, propels readers into your text. It's packed with energy. Words aren't wasted or used unnecessarily. Anything that saps energy should be removed, including flowery adverbs and adjectives.

For example, look at this sentence:

"The young boy had picked up a shiny blue stone and tossed it unceremoniously at the cur."

That's a rather long-winded and clumsy way of saying: "The boy threw a rock at the dog."

If it's a boy, it must be young. If he threw the rock, he must have picked it up. If it's a dog, call it a dog. And forget the ceremony: it's just an action.

4. Finally, there's the notion of positive v. negative. What Hemingway means is that you should state what something is as opposed to what it isn't. Rather than saying the sky isn't blue, say it's dull, grey or cloudy. That new dress isn't inexpensive; it's affordable.

There are lots of other techniques you can learn to help give your writing style. If you write often, you'll pick up many of these naturally. You can also find information online and in good books by authors and editors.

In the meantime, these four tips from Hemingway should be enough to set you on the right path.


Rikke said...

Hei Mel
I've just been on your website The Ultimate Copy writer. Your link to Top copy guy sends me to a chinice web site. I don't know if thats your site but anyway now you know.

Thanks for your time

Top Copy Guy said...