What’s Style & How to use it


Style: the way a writer uses language aspects such as tone, prose,
             vocabulary, grammar, rhythm and syntax.

Style is the way in which messages are worded. Each person thinks in his own personal way and speaks in his own personal way. Therefore, every writer will develop his own style of writing.

Part 1: The Right Word

Of course one can open up a thesaurus and pick a synonym that technically has the right meaning, but it is important to note that every word has its own colour or flavour. Using the word with the right flavour enriches your story. Test whether you have the right word by using the word in context before applying it in your writing. Note the difference between denotative words (words that convey information) and connotative words (words that convey emotion) to make sure you use the right type of word.

For example:

The lady walked into the bar.
The bimbo walked into the bar.

Both convey the essential information that the character is female, but the second example elicits an emotional reaction.

Use the most specific word you can, to convey your message. If your character is eating, don’t call it food, call it as it is. He is eating a jelly bagel. It’s a German shepherd, not simply a dog. She is wearing a summer dress, not simply clothing.

If you can’t find the right word then move on and try again later. Remember that writing is rewriting, sometimes it takes a few tries to get it right.

Part 2: The Right Tone

Tone is the attitude with which the writer conveys the message. For example, a text can “sound” cheerful, casual, scientific or aloof. Different tones have different effects on readers.

Aloof writing may bore your reader. Scientific writing may be too complex and scare your reader off. Self-important tones in writing may anger your reader. Keep in mind who your audience is and adjust your tone to their ears. Figure out what age-group your audience and what their average level of education would be. Figure out why they would read your work. Are they looking for a scientific article? Go wild with fancy words. Do they want to kick back and relax? Don’t chase them to the dictionary. If you mean to persuade your readers, do so by showing the right examples rather than giving your opinions. People like to form their own opinions but you can still steer them in the “right” direction. Avoid stating things in the negative form by staying away from using “not” whenever possible.


He isn’t good enough. (negative formulation)
He is inadequate. (positive formulation)
That is not expensive.(negative formulation)
That is cheap.(positive formulation)
Part 3: Create Parallelism with Emphasis and Rhythm

Parallelism is achieved by showing several parts of a thing in the same form. This gives it extra effect. People are wired to look for patterns, repetition and rhythm. By using parallelism you add intensity and strength in a pleasant way.

Part 4: Write colloquially

Limit the amount of rare or unusual words you use, as this pulls the reader out of your story and towards the dictionary. Writing colloquially means writing in the same way you would hold a conversation, without using slang. This common tongue is also known as invisible prose. It allows the reader to forget he is reading.

Style tricks to spice up your writing

Trick 1: leave them hangin’

When you make your dramatic point, shift to a (seemingly) unrelated idea. Then return for the knock-out punch that binds to the dramatic point you started with. Example: For centuries the quiet volcanos were believed dead. Visitors came every season, taking pics and walking around. They had no idea they walked on the bones of thousands who burned to death.

Trick 2: emotional involvement
  • creating a mystery that slowly unravels
  • create danger (and eventually resolve it)
  • use a problem that the reader is likely to deal with in his personal life as well
Trick 3: Don’t tell

Show, don’t tell. No, really. Check out this article for tips.

Trick 4: Variation

Use varied lengths for your sentences and for your paragraphs to avoid dulling your reader to sleep.

Trick 5: Naming

Avoid using the name of your character over and over and over again. It becomes annoying. Jane this and Jane that. Instead, use descriptive phrases.

  • Pronoun: Jane
  • Profession: the teacher
  • Nationality: the dutch girl
  • Appearance: the skinny one
  • Character: the virgin mary
  • Title: the duchess
  • Accomplishment: the record-holder
  • Species: the human
  • Mood: the cranky girl
  • Position: the girl on the topbunk
  • Activity: the running girl
Trick 6

Open with a bang and close with emotion. To keep the reader’s attention you must hook him. In order to keep him, you must keep him engaged.

Trick 7

Save the best for last. Reveal the most significant piece of information at the end of the sentence. This not only keeps the reader reading, it also helps him because the beginning and ending of information are remembered better than the middle.

Trick 8

Plant questions are you go. All these little questions keep your reader engaged to your story and motivates him to suffer through the slower parts.

Trick 9

Make promises that the questions will be answered. The closer the answer seems to be, the more exciting it is.

Trick 10

Introduce a funny or dramatic motif, then use it later with an ironic twist. Example: Joe lies in the hospital. As a kid, he soothed himself by studying the cracks in the ceiling. His friend comes into the hospital room and has some bad news. Joe doesn’t respond. The friend asks, geesh is this ceiling more interesting than me.

Style Checking Questions
  • Has your style appropriately evolved out of the point of view?
  • Is your style appropriately simple or complex for your target audience?
  • Does your style work upon all the reader’s senses?
  • Is your use of show & tell adequately balanced?
  • Are you using active strong verbs?
  • Have you used repetition as a device for emphasis?
  • Does your style employ the use of reversal and surprise?
  • Have you varied the length of sentences to achieve rhythm?
  • Are clichés dulling your style?
  • Have you used many vague pronouns?
  • Are you consistent in your use of tenses?
  • Have you practised word economy?

Source: Carroll, D. L (1995) A manual of writer’s tricks