What Is Style?

Definition & Examples of Style

Man writing in a journal by the river
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Style, to a creative writer, is essentially the way in which you write. It results from decisions a writer makes, such as word choice, tone, and syntax. It's the voice readers "hear" when they read your work.

Learn more about how style impacts writing, and the factors that impact writing styles.

What Is Style?

The term "style" applies to writers much in the same way as it applies in other scenarios—it's the manner in which someone does something. A writer's style is the culmination of distinctive qualities that define their work. The words you use, the tone you develop, and the syntax of your sentences are perhaps the biggest factors in defining your writing style.

Style is unique, but it often also draws on literary traditions. For example, if someone uses simple, direct sentences with few adjectives, you might say their style of writing has been influenced by Ernest Hemingway. They probably don't write exactly as Hemingway did, but they follow in those stylistic traditions that have become associated with Hemingway.

How Does Style Work?

Your writing style will define your "voice." In other words, your writing style will determine the impact the piece has on readers. Two different writers can write about the exact same subject from the same point of view, but if they have different styles, their writing will have a different effect on the reader.

Even if you haven't studied writing extensively, you can naturally sense the differences between writing styles just by reading works by various authors. Word choice, sentence length, punctuation usage—these factors all have an impact on readers, even if they aren't actively assessing the piece to glean the writing style.

Naturally, your writing style may shift depending on your subject matter and the point of view. You wouldn't write a coming-of-age story from a teenager's point of view the same way you'd write a sci-fi novel about an alien invasion of Earth. However, when we talk about developing your writing style, we mean the voice that is uniquely yours. That voice will change as your writing develops, of course, but like your personality, the foundation remains there even as it develops and matures. That means, whether you're writing about teenagers or aliens, your unique voice will still come across in both works.

This idea becomes clear by reading professional writers' works. Hemingway didn't write about the same thing in every story, but you can recognize Hemingway's style in each piece. Whether you're reading about an old man in a boat, a bullfighter in Spain, or a soldier in World War I, the story is told with sparse language, short sentences, and powerfully minimalistic descriptions.

The Mechanics of Writing

There is a more technical definition of writing style, as well.

To an editor, style refers to the mechanics of writing, including grammar and punctuation. In this sense, "style" refers to the standardized rules that govern the correct way to write. These styles include the Associated Press (AP), Chicago, and Modern Language Association (MLA).

While creative writers should be intimately familiar with how to write in these technical styles, they aren't top of mind when they sit down to create prose or poetry. These technical styles create the frameworks within which creative writers can find their own style and voice. By adhering to some rules and purposefully breaking others, creative writers develop an individual approach to writing that has a unique effect on readers.

These technical rules change depending on what field you're in. For instance, a book publisher using Chicago style would italicize book titles. A journalist reporting on that same book would instead use quotation marks for the title as dictated by AP style guides. Literature students often use MLA style, which also italicizes book titles.

Key Takeaways

  • Style, as it applies to creative writing, is the unique effect a writer has on readers.
  • Style is dictated by factors including word choice, tone, and syntax.
  • There are also technical writing styles, such as AP style and Chicago style, which standardize grammar and punctuation rules.

Article Sources

  1. Purdue University. "Chicago Manual of Style 17th Edition." Accessed Sept. 30, 2020.

  2. Purdue University. "Associated Press Style." Accessed Sept. 30, 2020.

  3. Purdue University. "What About MLA Format?" Accessed Sept. 30, 2020.