How to Perfect Your Writing Style

When we speak about writing, beyond grammar and punctuation there is one very important thing to consider—your writing style. Without aptly styling your writing, you may seem highly inept. Developing a proper, unique writing style is the result of years of experience; however, if you really give some care, you can fine-tune your writing. This is the first step toward developing your unique writing style.

In a series of posts, I will teach you the ways to develop your best writing style.

  1. What exactly is Writing Style

It is a question I answered in a recent post. Please find your answer here: Creative Writing Style.

Deciding Factors of Your Style

It is very important that you write on a daily basis in quest to build your writing style. It will reinforce your inborn voice, and will help you get it out at any time. Any expertise comes as result of experience and sustained hard work. I was not a writer at all, but now, by daily updates to this blog, I am developing my writing style.

Reading also creates a big change; I recommend that you read at least five articles and write about thousand words every day, if you are serious about this.

Editing your writing is one other important thing. I find editing both enjoyable and hard at the same time. I enjoy editing when I can spot some errors and better my sentences. But when I miss some minute errors here and there, and have to read the article over and over again struggling to find those unstable areas, I hate this process. Nobody likes to do one thing over and over again, right?

This reminds me of the character of Orr in Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, who delicately tries to fix a faucet “over and over and over and over again.” That was so funny, but it was getting on the nerves of Yossarian. Catch 22 is one of the most hilarious works in 20th century.

Elements of Style

  1. Word Choice

Have you heard the comment from anyone that your writing is awkward, or your word choice is awkward? This is because you used an entirely different word to mean something. Please read the past post on “Semantics of Words.” When you write something, you should give importance to using the best words to express your ideas.

When your word choice is wrong, your sentence may mean something totally different to the reader, from what you envisaged. Hence, it is very important that you choose the right words.

Similes and metaphors are a different thing altogether. You cannot use a word with a strange meaning and explain that it was meant to be a simile or a metaphor. Please read the post on semantics of words to know more about this.

Whenever you use a word, try to understand the meaning clearly. Consult a dictionary and a thesaurus.

  1. Repetitions / Redundancies

What about using a word time and again? When you can express a sense with a word, you don’t need two. For instance:

Very extreme–no need for this, extreme itself means ‘very’ much of something.

The reason why–no need for this either. Reason itself is ‘why’ something happened.

For more of such redundancies, please see “redundant words in writing: Superfluity”.

You can avoid a lot many redundancies by following some simple steps: first, turn on the spelling and grammar checker in your word processor. It will spot most of these awkward usages for you automatically. Some of them, however, may be incorrect, but most of the clumsy areas indicated can be corrected. Use it to the best. Next, have a dictionary and thesaurus handy all the time, and check all the words that you doubt.

When you use a redundant word, the sentence becomes more of a jarring sort—weak. It may not give appropriate stress to the idea.

One other form of redundancy is nominalization. In this, a particular action is expressed as a noun, and a verb such as ‘do’ or ‘made’ is added to the sentence to make things worse. For instance:

The beating of the child was done by the teacher.

The invention of electric bulb was made by Edison.

Rewrite these sentences as:

The teacher beat the child.

Edison invented the electric bulb.

  1. Avoid Clichés

Cliché is a phrase or usage that lost its charm by overuse. It is highly recommend that you do away with clichés. There were times when clichés were very charming, and the writers who invented them were regarded to be great. Not anymore!

Now, it’s time to invent new clichés. You have to find out new word choices and avoid all clichés as much as possible.

Many clichés are mistaken for proverbs or idioms. Idioms you may still use, not clichés. So many of the clichés come with words like ‘as’, as in “busy as bee,” “cute as a button,” “cool as a cucumber,” “dead as a doornail,” etc.

Here is a list of clichés you can avoid. In a coming specialized post, we can take a closer look at how we can effectively avoid clichés.

  1. Don’t Overuse Your Qualifiers

In writing, overuse of qualifiers can lead to a jarring experience. It is best to write with as few qualifiers as possible. The most annoying are the general qualifiers—adjectives and adverbs—like most, best, well, scarcely, hardly, etc.

Having scarcely finished his great lunch, Joe easily found it most enjoyable to snorkel well in the bright, sunny afternoon.

Many urban students generally outperform superbly the poor rural students.

These sentences should be rewritten as:

Having finished his lunch, Joe found it most enjoyable to snorkel in the bright afternoon.

Urban students generally outperform the poor rural students.

Such should be the construction: with fewest modifiers. You can check out “powerful short sentences” to know more.

  1. Always Try to Find One Word

You should always try to find a single appropriate word in place of a phrase. This way, not only you can save a lot of space, but also make your sentences slicker. One avoidable context is the usage of ‘not’. It is advisable to find ways to replace it with words like ‘never’, ‘neither’, etc. Examples to find single terms:

I didn’t do it, and he didn’t do it.

Rewrite as:

Neither he nor I did it.

The child was already dead in her womb before delivery.

Rewrite as:

Hers was a miscarriage.

The tip is: Read a lot. On reading more, you will come across newer words. You should always strive to increase your vocabulary, which is primary requirement for a good writer. Use a dictionary.

  1. Avoid Passive Voice

All good writers generally concur on this point, that passive voice kills your writing. It is something that writers should avoid as much as possible. A sentence is best styled in the active form, and passivity should come only if absolutely necessary. According to Stephen King, passive voice is the result of a passive mind, and you don’t want to be known as having a passive mind, do you?

Rewrite the sentences in the following form:

He was disconcerted by her aura.

To:

Her aura disconcerted him.

The dog was shot by the hunter.

To:

The hunter shot the dog.

See, how much space you can save.

Conclusion

Your writing style is a result of months and months of continued writing. It doesn’t come overnight. Work hard. Style has nothing to do with grammar and punctuation. Your sentence may be grammatically perfect, and may have perfect punctuation, but the style decides your readership. A well-styled sentence may not obey all the rigorous rules of grammar, but it will be eye-candy and reader-friendly. It is what you should try to achieve through your writing.


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Copyright © Lenin Nair 2008

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