Literature – with or without ‘writing style’

#guestpost written by Laolu Ogundele

 “So, what’s your style”? Someone once asked me in the middle of a neighborhood writers meetup I attended a decade or so ago.
“Straight jeans, dark-colored zip hoodies, and basketball shoes…” I began, but my voice trailed off as I noticed a couple of people try hard and fail to stifle a laugh.
“I mean writing style,” the original asker graciously clarified.
“Oh, my bad. My writing style… wait, what? I’m supposed to have a writing style?” I asked, doing a double-take.
The room went silent for a minute. They must’ve been surprised by my struggle because someone eventually changed the subject, but the damage had been done. My ego was forever bruised. Now, all I needed was some sackcloth and ashes – you know, a man must grieve properly. Throughout that evening, I kept mulling over the question: what is writing style in the high heavens? I knew I wrote terrific pieces, and people appreciated my work but being unable to answer such a seemingly simple question made me feel slightly insecure about my craft. 

 As you might expect, I dug in and did some research on the subject matter in the following days. Thankfully, what I found made me a lot more forgiving of myself. For one, it’s been historically difficult to give a precise definition of what “writing style” means.

Take that, writers meetup group jesters!

 Broadly speaking, it’s a term that describes how a writers’ narrative or story is perceived by his readers. It includes things like voice, syntax, usage of language, descriptive technique, flow, and so much more. Here’s where things get murky: just as there are countless potential opening moves in a chess game, there are also innumerable styles a writer can utilize in his work. Indeed, writing styles can vary widely between different authors, even when they are describing similar events. What’s more? The same author, while scribbling other pieces, may also switch between different styles. So, if you’re an author, you have a writing style for each work you put out, and just because you do not have a name for your style doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

 You see, I liken it to a party. When you go in, you’ll typically find people dressed in various ways: some – like my younger self – with a hoodie and jeans; others – wearing nice fitting dress shirts and slacks. Yet again, you might find the occasional member in an oversized shirt that’s missing a couple of buttons and pants tucked into their socks…

What’s the lesson here?

Just because you have your unique writing style doesn’t mean that it’s not embarrassing. Ouch! 😬😂 

This begs the question, “How easy is it to create a good writing style while retaining one’s uniqueness?”. First of all, it’s imperative to understand that your style doesn’t have to be swashbuckling and complicated to be considered significant/great. In fact, some budding authors have shot themselves in the foot by doing “too much” – neglecting the story’s substance in favor of creating a complicated stylistic identity that doesn’t work. The style should seamlessly complement the writing and must feel natural. For example, many successful authors – for example, Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell – have demonstrated that sometimes, ‘simple but strong’ is all that’s needed!

Some people can look amazing wearing a plain t-shirt and walking their dog on a warm Friday evening, while others look excellent in their premium tuxes on a weekend ball. Choose the style that comes most naturally to you. Ask yourself this: how do you communicate in everyday life? Do you use big words, or are you more casual? Do you utilize a lot of puns? Those might be pointers to your writing style. Once you’ve decided this, you’re halfway to creating (or, more accurately, discovering) your personal signature.

Now get to work!

I hope you’re convinced that you need to pay attention to your writing style. Or maybe you’ve even gone further and have now spent some time trying to improve it. But like most things in life, the desired change hasn’t happened overnight. Maybe the thoughts and questions have begun to cross your mind: am I just stressing for nothing? is this even needed?

Quick answer, yes!
Keep at it.

Without a signature, authors become indistinguishable from the sea of ‘competitors’ out there. What would happen if all of the books in the world were written in the same style? Boring, right? The truth is that most readers have an idea of what to expect from each author and find some comfort in that consistency. Well, let’s use ice cream as an illustration. I like vanilla ice cream, but some of my friends prefer chocolate, banana flavors, and so on. If I go to my favorite shop to get a bowl of ice cream, I expect its contents to be – guess what? Exactly – vanilla ice cream! Not something else!! And it doesn’t matter how nice the shopkeeper is.

If you’re a ‘vanilla’ writer, be the best version of that flavor.
If my experience holds, you’d always have your die-hard readers.

Having said all this, we must remember that while the best writers work hard to hone and polish their writing style, they don’t force it.  Instead, ensure that your writing is clear, concise, understandable, and has internal consistency. As your skills improve, a prominent style would begin to surface. Ultimately, the goal is to be yourself, live, and breathe through your writing.


Next post – The Story of Harmless Bullet, Day 16.