Thursday, December 15, 2011

What Does Your Style Say About You?

What comes to mind when you hear mentioned the following directors'/producers' names:  Stephen Spielberg, Michael Bay, and Tim Burton? If you're a little bit of a director aficionado, then certain films and images come to mind. Here's what I think when each are mentioned:

Are you feeling a
little ghoulish?

  • Stephen Spielberg -- Has a knack for creating adorable and loving aliens, like the ones in Cocoon, A.I., E.T., and Super 8. He also loves creating sci-fi creatures that munch on unsuspecting scientists (Jurassic Park) and swimmers (Jaws) and pretty much anything that deals with World Wars (Schindler's List and War Horse). He's a bit of a softy when it comes to his main characters. Most often, when I see his films, if anything is lacking in the storyline, then throw in an alien!
  • Michael Bay -- Do you want something blown to kingdom come? Something that works well as a tent pole blockbuster (any Transformers film, The Island, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor)? Then Bay is the director for you. He likes to make a big summer splash at the movie theaters.
  • Tim Burton -- Ever get the feeling that the dead are watching you? Or maybe just some creepy guy with crazy hair and scissors for hands? Burton seems to enjoy the theater of the absurd. Look at just about anything on his long list of credentials -- Edward Scissorhands, Mars Attacks, James and the Giant Peach, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Ed Wood, or Corpse Bride -- and you'll see that he has a thing for the other-worldly part of life. And his go-to actors are, without a doubt, the lovely Johnny Depp and his longtime partner, Helena Bonham Carter.
Why, you may ask, am I bringing up these individuals? Because much like directors and producers of films, writers create their own style and voice. And those who do it well create a uniqueness to show how and what they write.

Let's try the above game with a few authors, shall we. What comes to mind when you hear mentioned the following authors' names:  Jodi Picoult, Nora Roberts, Clive Cussler, or Stephenie Meyers?

Never one to avoid
Meyers conjures up images of pasty vampires hanging out in a sunless Washington state. Picoult usually means a controversial subject of sorts laced with the threads of a believable storyline. Roberts creates a hit or miss atmosphere of romance (depending on which book you read of hers). And Cussler usually means adventure, whether in an airplane, on the high seas, or stuck somewhere in the middle of a desert. These authors have formed a style that reflects (or at one time reflected) their passion for the stories that have kept them awake at night, wondering what would happen to their heroine/hero if he/she married that man/sacrificed a kidney to save a sibling/got involved with the creepy kids at school/tried to get that bomb on a plane.

As newcomers to this game long won by the familiar names splattered across the covers of airport novels, we have to learn to make ourselves distinct. Style needs to reflect the writer's personality and voice. It also needs to reflect the audience. Take, for instance, writing a letter. One would use a different style if the letter was one of business, condolence, or complaint. We don't sit down and write the same letter to our dear sister and then pop the same one off to complain to the local dry-cleaner.

The same goes for your novel. Romance authors don't write in the same style (flowery and filled with visions of love) as would a detective author (find the bad guy and make him pay). If you want to be taken seriously in the writing world, take time to create your voice. Make sure your characters have what it takes to make the reader want to invest his or her time in the book. Have a plot that not only flows, but one that is also believable. Lastly, don't force something onto the page. If you think it feels like a seventh-grader wrote it, then so will every agent you query.

Writing is entertainment. If you're only entertaining yourself with the stories you write, then maybe you should rethink the writing gig. Let your voice be heard in a way that will set you apart from other authors, but at the same time not turn away prospective readers. It's a fine line to walk, but it's what must be done. After all, wouldn't it be nice to reach Spielberg's or Roberts' status?
Know your style and
let your writing voice
be heard!
Do you struggle with voice and style when it comes to your writing? What does your style say about you? If you haven't thought about it, then now's the time to do so!


  1. Great subject! Voice and style are so important and you have to work so hard (and for a long time) to develop them. I think I'm still finding/discovering mine.

    "What comes to mind when you hear mentioned the following directors'/producers' names: Stephen Spielberg, Michael Bay, and Tim Burton?"

    Stephen Spielberg: Big-budget productions and a master at forcing tears out of our eyes (check out the girl with the red coat in "Schindler's List" and you'll know what I mean.)

    Michael Bay: [Sigh] Tries to hard.

    Tim Burton: Johnny Depp in another weird role with an even weirder look. :)

  2. This is a very good theme.
    I assume every writer has its own style. None of us write like somebody else. Although I constantly watch or read works that are clumsy imitations of bestselling pieces. When it comes to voice is much harder. I had a tough time developing voices. Since I write in the first person, and tend to have multiple narrators, assigning each character a peculiar voice can be a grueling task. I have managed it through the use of foreign languages. I make them use words and expressions extracted from dialect or their native languages. I also try to assign levels of discourse according to the characters’ sex and age. I am tired of reading novels where men speak like women would want them to speak (and think) or children talking either like jaded adults or like cretins. I don´t know which exasperates me most.

  3. Great post! I agree with Violante about voice being harder to come by than style. But both extremely important.

  4. Voice is what makes writing enjoyable. :)

  5. I always dress casual-classy, like I'm ready for a get-together with friends or headed to a club.

  6. "Tim Burton: Johnny Depp in another weird role with an even weirder look." HA! This is so true, Lorena!

    One thing I've noticed about my sisters here is that I can usually tell who has written the post before I even get to the bottom. All three have a distinctive style. I can also peg some of our regular commenters, like Regis, on their style alone. That's good!

    I read a fascinating book last month, "Cloud Atlas," by David Mitchell. What made it so interesting was that each section of the book had a different narrator, and each narrator had a distinctive voice. The style of each section changes, too: the "thriller" section is very clipped, with short sentences and little description. The 19th-century section really reads like something written in that time period. This variety is quite difficult for a writer to pull off. (Picoult does this, too.) It must be a bit like acting: some actors have the One Character they play over and over, some can become completely different characters.

  7. You're funny, Lorena! I agree, Michael Bay tends to try too hard. Hey, Johnny Depp may be a little weird, but I have always loved him! *sigh*

    Violante, I think style and voice go hand in hand. It's hard to be successful in one and not the other. That's why, yes, an author has to work at it in order to create a unique style and voice. I've never written in first person (except for a few short stories) but I can see how this would be a challenge.

    Katie and Suze, Important and enjoyable! That's what it's all about.

    The Rave -- Ha!

    Stephanie, I agree when it comes to the posts. We all have our own unique way of saying things. The book you mention, Cloud Atlas, sounds fascinating. I'll have to check it out!

  8. I don't write romance, but my style says fast action and character development. Odd mix, huh?

  9. How do you separate 'style' from 'formula'? Writers like Ludlum and Grisham crank out book after book without changing either. As Stephanie said, Mitchell in Cloud Atlas, (as well as in his other books,) always surprises one by his versatility.
    On a totally unrelated subject, a very pertinent article on the present dilemma of writers trying to get published is on line, free at:

    Happy holidays, Regis

  10. Thank you both Alex (I like your mix!) and Regis. Thanks for sharing the article Regis.

    Happy Holidays everyone!

  11. Good post. I learn something new and challenging on sites I stumbleupon everyday. It will always be useful to read content from other writers and practice something from other web sites.
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