Whether writing novels, essays or even poetry, style in literature is an ambivalent concept. He carries with it a heavy ambiguity. It is at once the peculiarity and the singularity of an author, and at the same time it is a standard judged collectively as an ideal model of writing. Each writer has of course his relation to writing, the book, the novel. In the 19th century, most literary myths were related to the stylistic norm. Of the three great men they said: Flaubert wrote well, Balzac wrote badly, and Stendhal did not write. The rules to follow and 5 key tips to find your style, work it and improve it.
In its minimalist version, to write well is to write simple and clear.
But each era, and especially each transition of times, brought their share of surprises. Freedoms, looseness, betrayal of language, freedom of non-linking were often points of comparison to referent academicism.
“The perfect is always a little mediocre” said Jules Renard …
And it is true that “the 3rd or 4th of the class is often more interesting than the first”.
This poses the complicated question: should one be a partisan of a style or defender of styles? In fact the reader does not expect a particular style, he expects there to be style. And since there is style, it should not be an artifice of distinction but rather a necessity that is at the service of substance.
The style was the perpetual torment of Flaubert, which he treated extensively in his Correspondances. He advocates precision as a force and fights with repetitions. His nightmare: the assonances, the grammatical folds.
But writing well probably does not depend exclusively on academicism.
Celine and Battle mark us today, more than Anatole France. Flaubert writes from his pen perhaps the most beautiful definition of a novel, and more particularly the style that animates it:
“The sentences must flap in a book like leaves in a forest,
all dissimilar in their resemblances. “
The style of writing is presumably the property of any writer.
The style is related to the identity of the author. It’s his signature, his imprint
It is certain that the imitation of other authors is not a very rewarding solution. For novels like essays and like any type of literature, the style is not invented. The style is unique to each feather.
On the other hand, the unconscious influence of big pens is, in some cases, interesting because it acts on the subconscious and does not prevent the development of own creativity.
But as Socrates says, “Know Yourself,” the most interesting way to reveal one’s style is to keep one’s identity intact.
The style is paradoxically what the reader will perceive in the first place
It attracts or rejects it, it is the first invitation to the reader. But its power of attractiveness is not infinite. The story, the background will gradually take their role, early if the style is mediocre, later if seduced the reader. An exciting scenario loses all its interest if it is badly told. On the other hand, from a banal scenario, a good writer can make a masterpiece. Why Madame Bovary has become the symbol of romanticism trampled?
Why The lily in the valley is the incarnation of the flame of passion or is consumed with love? Why Red and Black is the novel of psychology? It’s not the synopsis, it’s not history that makes these works masterpieces, it’s the way they are conducted, the way the rhythm is held, the expression, the construction, the choice of sentences and words, their combinations, their concatenations.
The elegant style is so necessary, said Voltaire in his Dictionnaire philosophique, article Style, that without him “the beauty of the feelings is lost”. We understand with him then, the importance of style in literature.
In literature, as in painting style can not be learned, it works
In reality, to work one’s own writing style, one must not follow predefined rules. There is no bad writing style. Just as in painting, no one has taught Otto Dix expressionism, no one has taught Manet, Renoir or Sisley Impressionism, as no one has taught Picasso cubism, the style of an author belongs to him. If it has not revealed itself, it is inherent, it sleeps, it is enough to wake it up.
All authors have a style but are not necessarily good writers because having a style is not an end in itself. One must not stand out for the simple fact of distinguishing oneself from others, but rather reveal oneself and transmit one’s personality in a form of sincerity. To tame language, to review it, to reinvent it to make it its own, and to find its style.
The style is nothing else than the way to express oneself, it does not exist in itself
No well-written book corresponds to the same canons of good writing. Schools, wrongly (Aesthetics, Poetics, Rhetorics) impose a model or an ideal, a canon of good writing or painting well. They define it, it is true that the authors who bend to it generally have but little flavor. The law of grammarians should not take precedence over the law of creation, under penalty of becoming a scientific discipline.
In the arts, especially in literature and novels, style is often imposed by circumstances and the environment
Men, through collective sense and culture, feel and think in groups. There are modes of feelings or ideas as a fashion for clothes. There are prejudices, conventions, customs in the order of good taste and conventions. In style, it’s the same. Schools, that is to say students who blindly accept the rules of a master, develop their skills only in the shadow of their rules, and this is detrimental. It even happens, especially in painting, that the way merges with his so much that we can not recognize who did what.
A contemporary of Socrates could not write as a contemporary of Balzac, and, in another art – since in a certain sense all literature is thus linked to a language – a contemporary of Goethe could not write as a contemporary of Cervantes . In this respect, the way of expressing oneself is related to the means available to the artist.
Oil painting has revolutionized the history and style of painting. French poetry with changing demands of rhyme too. We can bet that the appearance of the computer significantly modifies the way of writing by a different visualization, flexible, non-fixed writing. The style is thus committed to or enslaved by laws that the artist or the writer undergoes and which veil in a certain way the transparency of his personality.
As we have said, writing is the mirror of your unconscious, of your experience of life and culture. Your inner language and your way of expression are therefore essential to convey your emotions or your stories. A good style is not necessary, it is humorous, it is tamed, it seduces, it surprises. Do not impose it authoritatively if it displeases everyone. You would risk, at best to pass for a cursed author and at worst for a very bad novelist.
Regular reading is the number one rule. First to take a lesson in humility, then to identify yourself, to define oneself.
You must also write a lot. Write on all topics in a snippet: newspaper, experience, feelings, joys, disappointments. This is where the essence of your style appears.
To re-read oneself, to evaluate the quality of the chosen words, the rhythm, the turn, the slippage of the ideas, the sequences, the progression. And above all, paradox, have something to say. The style will give a relief to the feelings, the most ephemeral sensations when they are well brought out well described, a drop of rain, a passing boat, the step of a woman …
> You must not distinguish yourself for the wrong reasons. The simple provocation of breaking the rules is of course penalizing. As in painting, we must prove that we know how to paint before leaving in free abstractions.
> Work, when it feels, is penalizing. And if, to preserve your style, you mistreat the bottom, the reader will feel it. An immense tirade, whatever the stylistic virtues, can spoil a context or the encampment of a situation. A dialogue in the suburban language can be boring if it lasts ten pages (with exceptions that confirm the rules).
Natural and inspired, style is a real asset. Imposed and academic, it can damage your writings and especially make the reader run away.
Choose your words. The French language contains many words. Often close, their nuances bring particular flavors to the story according to their precisions, outlines or evocations.
Create a story rhythm. If the stylistic unity is important, breaks in rhythms -dialogues, description, actions, backtracking – are essential to keep the reader awake.
Be fluid. Allow the reader to settle in a story. The chains are essential, the risky digressions. Choosing words does not mean overloading them with meaning through sophisticated expressions.
A reading aloud is probably the best test to pass to your novel, your essay, your testimony …
Track the repetitions. Flaubert’s nightmare must be yours too. Anaphoras, pleonasms, use of the same expression two pages apart give an amateur dimension to your book. Even to great writers.
Look for precision and simplicity. Re-read and always come back with a fresh eye on his manuscript several times, fill in the voids, hollow out the overflow, eliminate the superfluous, look for another way to say the same thing in a simpler way, examine the adjectives, check the usefulness words.
In a nutshell, this is the writer’s hard work when he looks at the issues of style.
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