Seven Great Tips for Getting to Grips with Different Styles of Writing

It is usual for different styles to be used in different types of writing. For instance, a modern romcom can be very different in terms of style from, say, a closely crafted thriller story. The following seven tips are designed to help you understand the different styles and improve the way you write. But before that, what exactly is a “style of writing?” 

Defining the Term “Writing Style”

Generally, the term “writing style” is a reference to how a piece is written i.e. the way it is written rather than what a piece of writing means or what it contains. According to some colleges and in the opinion of people who are experts in tone, diction, and style, the style in which something is written has a considerable influence on how a reader interprets the meaning of that text. For example, when reading a fictional passage with a brooding tone you are likely to expect a dreadful or shocking event to unfold. 

It is important to be able to develop an effective style when writing fiction for the following reason:

  • Poorly written prose with bad sentence structure, inappropriate tone, and clichés can turn readers off. 
  • By contrast, the right style improves the overall meaning and the message you want to get across in a fictional piece.
  • Additionally, it will be easier for you to find a publisher if you develop a good style. 

Below are our seven top tips for mastering an appropriate style for your prose:

1. Check that your choice of diction is suitable for the subject matter and genre of writing.

Diction is a reference to your choice of words – it is the overall pattern or choice of words used in a fictional piece. In the event you are writing a modern romcom, your text will appear strange if the language in it is archaic. It would be odd, for instance, for a character in modern-day American to use such words as “thou” and “thy.” The following advice on diction is intended to help improve this part of your style:

  • Be active in the way you build and develop your vocabulary. Learn a few new words every day from a thesaurus and/or dictionary. Do not confine yourself solely to the definition of words. Familiarize yourself with the etymology of words in order that you fully understand any associations or connotations in the root of the words.
  • Look for appropriate words with correct connotations. According to Mark Twain, right words and nearly right words are akin to the difference between lightening and the lightening bug. Take, for example, the word “striking.” There is a big difference between striking someone or something, which suggests just one act and “beating” someone or something, which implies several strikes and, therefore, a greater level of violence.
  • Try to ensure your diction is not abstract where it could be concrete. The abstract variety is the use of words that will not necessarily appeal to the imagination of readers, or words that prohibits them from visualizing. Nouns such as “hate” and “love” are good examples of abstract-type nouns. (Check out our separate guide to concrete and abstract diction.) So, rather than writing, “over time she grew suspicious of love,” think of saying “over time she became accustomed to quickly changing the subject when anyone raised the issue of her love life.”

Good diction will help you convey the meaning of your writing effectively, and it will appeal more to the imagination of your reader.

2. Understand the connotations of words that are alike, especially the differences between positive and negative associations.

One very important thing to remember about diction is that there can be positive or there can be negative connotations to synonyms. While, for example, “arguing” and “quarrelling” both mean engaging in dialog, the first term suggests an attempt at reaching some sort of agreement (and can therefore be construed as being constructive). By contrast, “quarrelling” suggests opposition and/or conflict and its connotation is, therefore, stronger. Just be sure that you do not erroneously choose a word with a negative connotation when you intended it to have a positive connotation, or the other way around.

3. Make sure the tone of your writing suits the subject matter and your readers.

The “tone” of a written piece is a reference to the general feeling or attitude that the piece conveys. For instance, tone can be casual, informal, aloof, or professional. It is possible for certain types of fiction to have a more formal or casual tone. Then, for instance, in a romcom, the dialog of the characters should be similar to people in real life, and the writing should convey a feeling of relaxed casualness.  

Try to ensure your choice of words sets a suitable tone for the readers you are aiming your writing at and ask these questions of yourself:

  • What age group is your story intended for and what is their likely level of reading?
  • What type of language do you think your readers will like and what type will they expect e.g. language that is rich and descriptive or slang?

One means of ensuring the right tone is to consciously listen to the tone in the work of writers you like.

4. Read the works of writers who use different styles you like and learn by imitating them.

It is said that one of the greatest types of flattery is imitation, but it is also a great way of learning a range of styles of writing. Try reading the fictional works of writers whose styles are vastly different. For instance, you could compare the works of Jane Austen who wrote in a flowing and loquacious way with Ernst Hemingway who wrote in a clipped, sparse, and right to-the-point style. It can help to copy authors who wrote in these different styles because:     

  • This process is a way of learning of what your own particular style is i.e. in terms of the tone, structure and diction that gives distinction to your writing style.
  • The act of reading an effective style that has withstood the time test is a good way of helping a writer identify any flaws in their own style and improve their writing.

5. Practice writing in a clear way.

Writing clearly is an essential aspect of any style. Is the meaning of every sentence and paragraph you write clear? Has the message you wanted to convey been conveyed without any confusion or ambiguity? Frequently, it is punctuation that causes lack of clarity. 

Take, for instance, one magazine cover that featured celebrity cook, which was “doctored” to create an amusing meme. The result, which many readers took for the original, ended up implying that this cook loved cooking her family and dog. So, as can be seen, leaving out commas can make an innocent individual appear to be a cannibal. Therefore, the message is, keep a grammar guide to hand for reference and refer to it often.

Additionally, there are a number of tools to be found online, of which the Hemingway Editor is one example, which can help identify weaknesses in sentences and help you revise your work to make it clearer.

Kurt Vonnegut, the renowned author, also had views about the advantages of keeping writing simple. In terms of language usage, he referred to two maestros of language, Shakespeare and Dubliners author James Joyce, and reminded us how their sentences were virtually like those of a child when their subjects were at their most profound. 

6. Become familiar with those features the different styles have in common.

Each writing style has some principle elements that make it distinct. In thriller stories, for instance, the tone is often stark and or/terse and the pace of the writing is often taut, which generally means the length of sentences is shorter than average. Style is especially important in literary pieces, more so than in fictional writing where the aim tends to be the creation of particular plot tropes and characters that are memorable.

On the other hand, the style in historical-type fiction is frequently ornate, since language tended to be much different in bygone times. Compare, for instance, the English Shakespeare used – e.g., “thy” and “thou” – to modern-day English.

When you begin to understand those features that are particular and specific to the style of each type of fictional writing, you should be in a better position to start writing stories and novels in writing genres you are not so experienced in.     

7. Look for imagery that fits a style.

The imagery used in a written piece e.g. the sensory elements such as smell, sight, and sound is an essential element in a style of writing. The similarity in style in works of the same type usually means that the imagery in these types of writing is alike. Detective dramas will often feature dingy alleyways, sparse offices and bleak city scenes while historical romances are often based in wide-open countryside, spacious manor houses, and so on.

To ensure the style and imagery in your writing work well together, consider the mood you would like to set. Are you looking to create a background scene that is bleak and threatening and hints at danger and conflict for a detective story? If so, then it is advisable to use a combination of sparse and bare description with bleak imagery to convey a simmering sense of tension to grip your readers.

By contrast, if you are writing a happy-go-lucky comic piece, look for carefree and light imagery to complement the styles you choose.

It is easier to master the different writing styles once your tone, diction, and general writing skills are developed. You can begin improving your style today with a little help and advice from