WOPservations- Writing advice from several years of W.O.P. observation
Author: Mary-Annalee DiGiovanni

Chapter 3
Style: How is Your Story Dressed?

So, lets talk style. This chapter will be a metaphorical comparison of sorts. I will be relating wardrobe to writing, because in essence, style is what you dress your writing in. Think about getting dressed in the morning as it compares to your writing, and to the following:

Tone: Keep the tone consistent in your story. It would be highly inappropriate (unless the chapters are from several diverse character viewpoints) for one chapter to be written elegantly, and another to be chalked full of foul language and slang. Sort of how it would shock you to see a woman dressed in Victorian fashion from the waist up, and on the bottom be decked out in ripped jeans, neon pink socks, and high-top sneakers. There needs to be balance, or else readers will be distracted, perhaps even bothered by the sudden change. If you like two diverse styles and want to put them together, try blending them. That same woman would be a lot less distracting if she had bits of both style sprinkled about her wardrobe in a balanced way. Maybe she could wear a nicer pair of jeans to compliment her Victorian shirt, and lose the pink socks, keeping both styles, but in a less offending way. Am I saying you should dress your writing to blend in? Not at all. I'm saying dress your writing in ways that compliment it, rather than in ways that distract from it or make it look bad. If the Victorian/punk comparison doesn't work for your mind, think tone in terms of color. Make sure that you write with complimenting shades, rather than ones that clash. Instead of trying to write pink, and then in blue, try to find an in between balance- purple, if you will. You may also think of this in terms of flavor; salt doesn't go well on a bowl of cornflakes, so try honey. But how ever you look at tone, go for elements that compliment.

Use of extravagance: Some writers like to think that the more big, long, super, SAT vocabulary type words they use, the more professional and advanced they sound. But the truth is, it only makes them sound like they are trying too hard. So to put this in metaphorical terms, we're back to the idea of getting dressed again. If big fancy words are pieces of bold jewelry, is your writing dull with a lack of them, blinding with an overabundance, or does it have a gentle and balanced glitter? In other words, is it a piece of cardboard, a dress Lady Gaga would wear, or is it a cloudless night sky where you can see the constellations? Which would you rather stare at for hours, like readers will be staring at your words? If you're like me, though I must say Lady Gaga has some fascinating apparel, you would rather stare at a night sky; it's a nice balance between boring and over the top. And your words ought to follow suit. Here are examples of each, and a bit of my opinion on them:

Dull: “He kissed her and hugged her.”

My thoughts: The idea is nice, but there are no descriptions bringing it to life. It's like a man wearing jeans and a t-shirt to a wedding; not quite enough for the occasion.

Over the top: “He kissed her felicitously, and embraced her steadfastly and fixedly.”

My thoughts: Too simple would have been better than this. Too many adverbs (ly) take away from the basic meaning, and readers will get hung up on the big words and forget the rest.

Nicely balanced: “He gave her a gentle kiss, and an embrace to match.”

My thoughts: A little description sets the mood, but doesn't push the mood on readers.

Flow: Compare this to driving, presuming that you are the driver, trying to make a pleasant ride for your reader, who happens to be the passenger. Pretend that periods are stop signs. If you have nothing but short sentences, bringing your reader to a lurching stop every few seconds, they're likely going to get carsick, and opt to take the bus instead. If you have nothing but long, rambling sentences, they'll likely get bored and fall asleep. Keep an even balance of the two, using short sentences and long ones where appropriate. The one place I can think of where shorter sentences may be used one after the other (in moderation) with purpose, would be in an intense action type of scene.

Example: “He ran. Then he ran fast. Then even faster.”

In this way, you build to the explosion of the action.

Another thing I notice that can relate to flow, is repetitive sentence beginnings. At times, I’ve seen books that read a little like this:

“He saw that she cared about him. He was happy. He tried to hide his smile. He could not contain himself. He let it out. He hugged her.”

He. He. He. He. He.

It gets a little predictable, and a little annoying.

If you start too many consecutive sentences with the same word, (unless you are using a literary device like anaphora, where certain repetition is appropriate), it becomes repetitive, and the reader feels like they are reading in circles, or being driven around in circles, as it relates to our metaphor.

If you notice that you have sentences like that, try combining them to make for fewer sentences starting with the same word.

Example (instead of the above phrase): “He finally saw that she cared about him, and found happiness. He tried to hide his smile, but was unable to contain himself, and let his joy out by hugging her.”

It's not wonderful, but it sure beats “He He He He He”.

Another step you might take, if you really want to jazz things up, would be to trying to avoid starting with the offending word altogether. Think of the other ways the same sentences could be combined or written, that would keep the point, but lose the repetitive qualities.

Example (modifying the above phrase yet again): “That she cared for him was plain at last, and in this revelation he found much happiness, unable to contain the emotions, which made themselves known in a beatific smile and tight embrace as he took her in his arms.”

Perhaps that is going too far or trying too hard to cram everything into one sentence, but it's a good example of just how much you can change something dull into something a little more lively.

On a side note, I know I did mention that in some cases, repetition is appropriate, and for this, I will provide an example (this is one I’ve used in one of my own stories):

“... he pulled her body close to his with a kiss. A pair of kisses. Abundant kisses.”

Yes, I use the word kiss several times in a row, but why does it work? Because it builds on the point I am trying to make. The moment being written about is a very intimate one, and rather than saying “they kissed a lot”, I can make it a little more poetic with the repetition, and also make it intense with a consecutive pair of short sentences. I use the words and the flow of the words to match the rhythm of the action in the scene. Is it perfect? No. But nothing is perfect, and as I continue to grow and change as a writer, I may learn how to be able to take that phrase and write it even better. As anyone reading will be able to with their own writing.


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