I always aim to write the occasional blog post full of writing tips. Usually, this looks like character development. Character development, in my opinion, is what I'm good at. There's no use in creating worlds and plots and actions if you don't have interesting people to inhabit those worlds and complete those actions. But most people, when they hear the words "writing advice," think less about content and more about style.
A person's writing style is what makes them unique. It sets them apart from every other writer and author who's put a pen to a page. So does content, of course--you wouldn't expect a romance novel out of C.S. Lewis or a toddler's board book from Stephen King--but style is something special.
One way to think about writing style is to compare it to clothing style. Some people wear country clothing--jeans, plaid shirts, large-buckled belts, ten-gallon hats and cowboy boots. Some people wear athletic clothing everywhere they go--my sister, for instance, is so in love with basketball shorts that she does not own a pair of jeans. Others only wear brand-name crop tops with short shorts and lots of jewelry. Some people don't give a crap what they look like and wear a hodgepodge assortment of thrift store clothes, stuff off the Kohl's clearance rack, and the occasional nice shirt that was probably a Christmas gift from Grandma.
Outside of personal preferences and modesty guidelines that vary from person to person, there's really nothing to say what makes a 'good' or 'cute' outfit. Personally, I find most high-end red-carpet fashion to be hideous. I'm much more simple in my clothing style. Right now, for example, I'm wearing Bermuda jean shorts with a bleach stain and a plain, pill-covered salmon pink T-shirt.
Writing style is similar. Cressida Cowell uses frequent humor, including quirky exclamations of surprise, in her How to Train Your Dragon series. C.S. Lewis is witty and knowledgeable. Laura Ingalls Wilder is simple and straightforward, though lavish in her descriptions, especially of outfits. But whose style is better? Or by what standard is a 'good' writing style measured?
I once received the fourth edition of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, one of the foremost books on writing in existence. The first page of Chapter Five explains the problem of style quite well: "Who can confidently say what ignites a certain combination of words, causing them to explode in the mind?...There is no satisfactory explanation of style, no infallible guide to good writing, no assurance that a person who thinks clearly will be able to write clearly, no key that unlocks the door, no inflexible rule by which writers may shape their course. Writers will often find themselves steering by stars that are disturbingly in motion."
Writing style is a matter of taste. Sure, there's 'good' taste--no one likes a writing style that's ridiculously grand and uptight any more than they'd like a dress covered head to toe with lace, beads, and bows. And writing style, just like fashion, changes with time. I tried reading Shakespeare's The Tempest once. Emphasis on 'tried.' I got maybe a page and a half into it before I gave up.
Nowadays, writing style is almost oversimplified. Words are losing their power because no one quite knows how to wield them. We have the old masters. We've heard about the path less traveled. We've seen Pearl Prynne come to know her heavenly Father, for she never knew her earthly one. We've even watched the bolt of Tash fall from above yet get stuck on a hook halfway down. But must values change simply because times do? We strive for progressive, modern styles, and yet we sacrifice culture and oftentimes genuinely good writing to do so.
This week, dear readers, I challenge you to find a good book that was written before 1990. It can be anything from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to War and Peace or Macbeth. But when you come back next week, tell me what you think: do you prefer older works or modern ones? And what are your favorite elements of writing style? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.