Writing, not unlike fashion, has its styles too. The popularity of these
styles wax and wane with the vagaries of passing time. What was in vogue awhile
ago is passé today and what holds good today may not necessarily be right for a
tomorrow either. They are also subjective. They differ from person to person,
publication to publication and from genre to genre.
That every writer has an inborn talent and an innate flair for writing is a
given. He wouldn’t be a writer otherwise. How he develops it and in what manner
is usually dictated by the "style" he adopts, and
that style is in turn dictated by the exigencies of language, culture and usage
of the period in time.
Needless to say, writing styles are not born overnight.
The language of the Victorian era is a far cry from the language of the middle
ages. As is the modern to post Regency. Take Shakespeare, for instance. He wrote
in a language and style far removed from that of his predecessors while present
day writers are on planes poles apart. He was right for the time, but today
(other than studying it as a part of your academics) do you hear it spoken or
see it written by anyone, anywhere? Do you write anything like "O judgment! Thou
art fled to brutish beasts" (Julius Caesar) or do you read anywhere anything
like: "Sir in my heart there was a kind of fighting – That would not let me
sleep. Methought I
lay" – unless in Hamlet? "Thou" and "methought" (let alone the language construction) are words lost in the
mists of passing time. No longer in use.
Although Shakespearean English forms the bedrock – the foundation – for all
students of English literature, its moment has come and gone. It is no longer
the language of our times. No one writes or thinks in
that particular style in poetry or in prose. Nor have they done so for a while.
That is not to say it is not being enjoyed or revered even today. It is – as is JRR Tolkien (Lord of the Rings) but when compared to our modern day J K Rowling
in the same genre, the different styles employed
smack you right in the face.
Doesn’t Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, though as popular as ever, seem almost old fashioned when
compared to Dame Agatha Christie, not only in language but also in tempo and
action? And doesn’t Agatha Christie pale in
comparison to a modern day crime thriller? Just so!
And as language travelled through the centuries experts will have us believe it
improved, it developed. It grew. It acquired new terminologies, even while
shedding some. It introduced new thoughts while
ignoring others. It became leaner, less verbose, crisper, and cleaner. And
finally it transformed itself willy-nilly to what it is today. It has evolved
into the "style" that you and I favour now.
How you write and the way you write within that framework is what defines your
style of writing. Influenced by the milieu around you, it is indicative of your
personality. Your way of thinking! It is your
voice in tones that are special to you in today’s setting. It could be
descriptive or narrative; natural or verbose. Pompous or breezy; humorous or
serious. Personal or whatever. All of them or one of them. The choice is yours.
It is the vehicle for whatever ideas you choose to express.
And since styles cannot be divorced from language, these settings too (and the
style) as in the order of things will undoubtedly become old fashioned and staid
in due course when younger, newer writers
begin blazing their own trails.
A Global Language
So it is obvious that just as lives, attitudes and conditions change, so do
writing styles. The English language in particular because of it colonial reach
has undergone many changes not apparent in other
Its style has also been influenced not only by the era and the land of its
origin but also by the place, the creed, the race and culture wherever it was
spread and used. Thus we have British, American,
Canadian, Australian and – well – Indian English with their own unique styles.
A single word to illustrate this point amply is "Station". It is "railway" station
to the Briton and the Indian or in the Caribbean, while it would denote an
estate or farm or a ranch to an Australian or New
Zealander or American. Thus it is evident that styles are word-driven and evolve
into various forms that are not only country specific but also user specific.
So we have English that is written in all these styles, and perfected by writers
of all these countries which are as different as they are common. And yet it
makes no difference. The innate sense of the
language continues to reign undaunted.
So much so, that the English language has evolved and compartmentalised itself into
myriads of varieties specifically favoured by its varied users even while
retaining its original flavour.
It has also morphed into its current avatar absorbing, adopting and adapting
everything that has come its way. It has in the process engendered new methods
and new manners of writing. The kind that we revel
From academics to creative; from legalistic to the simple, writing styles have
while moving away from so called old formats evolved anew in every field within
firmly delineated lines.
So if you were an academic today your use of the language would be in a style
that is in complete variance to the style favoured by journalists or to what was
in use during the Regency era. Similarly, if
you were a fiction writer it could be totally different to that of a white paper
writer or to that of Thomas Hardy.
There are different styles even within the same genre. Pulp (James Hadley Chase)
in contrast to classic (Hemmingway); old romance (Barbara Cartland) as against
modern (Jackie Collins) or contemporary (Khalid
Hosseini) as opposed to literary (Doris Lessing) all belong to the same genre
(fiction) and are yet so different. Not to speak of the web and the internet. So
to help modern writers in the formal arena, the
language Tsars have even come out with various style guides as well.
Similarly, too, with most publications and disparate genres. What might work for
newspapers may not work for magazines. What is suitable for fiction is definitely
not right for nonfiction. And how you would
write for Mills and Boon or a woman's weekly is not how you would write for the
Wall Street Journal or the Times or even the Cosmopolitan.
Your writing style
Be that as it may, however evolved you may be as a writer, whatever the style you
perfect, the bottom line is that you need to narrate; to communicate
effectively. For that you need to evolve a style that is not
boring, not verbose nor convoluted; is straight to the point, simple and effective
even while it is beautiful.
If you were a fiction writer you would need to develop a smooth and lucid style
that is easy on the mind and yet will "grab" the readers' attention. Yes there are
editors who now play an important role in
helping you do just that. Even so, developing a style is not easy. But not too
difficult, either. It comes with practice and plenty of writing. Unless, of course,
you are a born natural – which you might very well
Apart from the probable "spellbinding’ content of various books it is the
writing style of modern day writers that dictate the success of a writer and
differentiates a good one from a mediocre one. So it is
imperative for you as a writer to develop a good one.
And how do you do that? By reading, writing, editing, re-editing and rewriting. And
adapting it to what is required.
Now, if you were writing to your friend your style would naturally be chatty, but
that wouldn’t work for an essay that is to be submitted to your professor, would
it? So you change and necessarily write in a
style that’s suitable: i.e. serious and impersonal.
It is evident that styles not only differ from author to author and genre to
genre but also from subject to subject – even topic to topic – but a command over the language and its grammar should normally see you through
once you have a hang of the matter. And so any good writer would necessarily
have to have more than just one style in their
repertoire. They would most certainly need to read, absorb and adapt their language
skills to a variety of writing styles that would work for them in different genres. Therein lies the heart of the matter.
What was and is
Although there is no such thing as bad writing unless it is grammatically and
structurally challenged, what used to be considered not appropriate is now
all par for the course.
For instance, in the past adjectives were good: they were descriptive and added colour to the
sentence, yet now they are considered a hall mark of weak writing and a word that
is one too many.
Correct spellings (color/colour) which had been dinned into our subconscious
no longer that important. We have examiners rueing the loss but grading work
nevertheless on the content.
We were taught never to end a sentence with a preposition (of) or begin one with
a "but" or an "and". Modern experts now allow it and is no longer taboo.
Pronouns – another point of modern dissention. As recent as the the sixties and
seventies professors emphasised the importance of third person singular/plural
in essays and how never to use the first person.
Today, blogs which pass for essays and features which pass for articles are woven
round the inimitable "I" or "You" (e.g. this very article)!
New words and new meanings are also being included in the Oxford Dictionary
every year: e.g. "It is so cool" has really nothing to do with the weather or the
Universities and experts have had to condone and do a rethink about what
constitutes correct or incorrect language with many erstwhile wrongs becoming
right today. Thus has the English language evolved. The
old order yielding place to new in natural progression. And, in turn, writing
So it would be safe to assume that the commonly accepted writing styles we use
currently are a direct fallout of all the changes and modifications that the
language and its proponents – mainly the writers –
have had to adopt in its long journey through the centuries to get here
today. And as more new writers come aboard and begin to give the language fresh
and contemporary makeovers more new and changed
writing styles will also emerge.
Thus it is evident that "writing styles" – like most things in life – come with
no lifetime guarantees!
About the author Sreelata Menon is a freelance writer who enjoys writing on all kinds of
topics… the more controversial the better! Her "letters
to the editor" on current happenings appear with quite unfailing
regularity in India while her articles and features make the scene in online and
print publications everywhere! A Masters in History from Mumbai University,
India, she has worked as an Asst editor with the Onlooker and World trade
Magazines in Mumbai .She has taught history to undergrads, done a stint as an
accts executive in an ad agency, before switching over to full time freelance
writing. She is currently busy reinventing herself as a web content writer
with quite a few projects in hand .Married to a civil servant she is presently
based in Allahabad ,India and can be reached at email@example.com.
Gloker recently found success in a writing
competition she found through firstwriter.com. We
caught up with her to talk to her about the competition, and her
fw: Congratulations on your
recent success, Angela. Tell us a little about the competition
you entered, and what you won.
The competition theme was "Desire". This sparked a chord in me as when an old friend and fellow poet visits me, there is an unspoken spark. I actually dreamt about this, and the result was
"Did you dream of me last night". The poem virtually wrote itself in my head, and as it was exactly how I felt, I was quite happy with it. I do find that when you are given a theme, your brain reacts to the trigger and the outcome is usually a decent poem. I did not expect to win, but knew I would be foolish not to enter. The prize was a choice of either £300 cash or £500 in books from AC Black.
fw:Tell us a little about your background, and how you first got
interested in writing.
I was raised in York, and have spent most of my life in Yorkshire, which I love with a passion. I used to do
accounts etc. for a living, but when M.E. struck, I was unable to physically go out to work. I started
scribbling (a lifetime love affair with words). Despite the fact that I can be a boisterous extrovert at times, I have always had difficulty in expressing myself verbally, yet with pen and paper, I can write my
innermost feelings without embarrassment. I used to drive my parents crazy as when I ran out of paper, I would write on my bedroom walls!
Then I literally fell into painting, which in turn led in to sculpture also as I wanted the see the back of the picture! I love working in the three disciplines and find that I have never been happier. The process of creating fills me with great joy and I get real pleasure when people enjoy my work.
So writing's something you've always done?
I used to scribble daft ditties when younger, but only started taking myself seriously in 1998 after contracting M.E. and wanting to keep my brain active. I find writing cathartic and leaves me feeling balanced and serene. In fact, quite often my poetry then draws pictures in my head and a painting ensues.
As children and I recognise kindred spirits in each other, I occasionally write poetry/short stories for their amusement, and have even been known to perform some of them in my extrovert moments.
Have you also enjoyed success with your painting?
In 2001, I had a large solo art exhibition in Stockton, Cleveland, which was well received and generated a lot of publicity in the newspapers and on Tyne Tees television.
Then, whilst living in Portugal, I had another exhibition which was again well received and supported.
fw:What made you start entering competitions?
I wanted to find out for myself if in fact my writing was of a good enough standard for anyone to actually want to publish it. I also enjoy attempting to rise to the challenge!
Did you find it difficult to get good information on potential markets?
At first, yes. Then, upon finding
the firstwriter.com website, and buying the three
yearbooks: Writers & Artists Yearbook, Poetry Writers Handbook and
Children's Writing & Artists Yearbook, I realised that there truly was a large demand.
To be honest, this website is brilliant. It saves me vast amounts of time and notifies me of the type of competitions that are of interest. All the information you need is at your fingertips.
fw:Once you'd received email notifications of competitions, or searched for them in our database, how did you choose which ones to enter?
This may sound strange, but the ones that attract me virtually jump off the page and almost demand that I take notice and write accordingly.
I enter a variety depending on which attract me.
fw:To what extent do you think writing for competitions differs from writing for other markets?
There is more freedom to express yourself.
fw:Do you always stick with the same kind of contests, or do you enter a variety?
I enter a variety depending on which attract me.
How long have you been entering competitions for?
AG: I started last year, dipping my toe into the water. Then this year, I found that it was quite therapeutic to enter, and a perfect foil to my painting
fw: What do you think has been the key to your success? What would be your biggest tip for other writers?
My success is purely due to the revelation that if I wrote exactly what I felt and knew, then the words would flow effortlessly. Be true to yourself and allow your brain to express itself without constraint. Do not be afraid to share your writings with like-minded people. As I have discovered, you cannot win if you do not enter!
I also always carry scraps of paper and a pen, even when wearing my bikini as I find that inspiration strikes you when it is least expected.
fw: What next? More competitions, or do you have other plans for your writing?
Certainly more competitions, but one day I would like to publish a small anthology when I believe I have sufficient works that are up to a high enough standard. On this point, as my fellow writers would agree, I can be my own worst critic and often do not realise when a piece is worth sharing. I am
also working towards a new art exhibition sometime in the future, but no matter where my visual art takes me, words are like magnets for me and I find myself unable to resist them. I now understand fully that the pen is mightier than the sword!
fw: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Angela,
and all the best for your writing, painting, and sculpting in
Contribute to the world’s longest
story On August 11, 2008, "The
Forever Story" was launched with an
opening by Nick Hornby. Writers are
invited to add contributions online, and
for every contribution made TalkTalk
will donate £1 to Treehouse, the charity
that helps children
famous contributors will include David Mitchell, Robert Harris, Richard Curtis,
Dorothy Koomson, Tom Stoppard and Larrisa Wilson.
agent closes East office Ronnie Gramazio has left Martin Literary
Management to return to an Editor position with a soon to be announced
publisher. The East office has therefore
closed and the agency has ceased to
accept fiction submissions, becoming a
nonfiction only agency.
MLM has also
become a green agency, accepting queries
by email only.
Zoetrope: All-Story Short Fiction Contest Zoetrope: All-Story, the story and art quarterly
founded by Francis Ford Coppola, has
announced its 2008 Short Fiction Contest, which will be judged by National Book
Award-finalist Elizabeth McCracken and award prizes of $1,000 for first
place, $500 for second, and $250 for third.
Additionally, the winners and seven finalists will be considered for
representation by several leading literary agencies.
deadline for submissions is October 1,
2008. For more details, click