Techniques of the novel III: Style

Techniques of the novel III: Style

First published HERE

I remember when I was in art school, shortly after I left high school. I was always good at sketching and drawing and believed I would make a great painter one day. We had different classes that ranged from landscape painting, nude life drawing and even pottery. At the end of each exercise, we all had the opportunity of studying each other’s work and observing the multifarious interpretation each aspiring artist brought to the exercise. No single work was ever the same even when all the time we were all staring at the same objects and asked to draw/paint them. There were some artists whose interpretations were similar and many whose were as dissimilar as black is from white… yet there was still an element of the object captured in the works of these different artists. These approaches and interpretations could be termed as the artists’ STYLE.

A novelist’s style is determined by the choice of words and phrases, and how these are arranged in sentences and paragraphs. Style allows the author to shape how the reader experiences the work. For example, one writer may use simple words and straightforward sentences, while another may use difficult vocabulary and elaborate sentence structures. Even if the themes of both works are similar, the differences in the authors’ styles make the experiences of reading the two works distinct.

Style can be broken down into three types: simple, complex, and mid-style. Some authors employ a single style through out a piece of work. Some writers use multiple styles within a novel or vary the styles depending on the narrative. A good example would be a story told through the eyes of three different characters. The use of different styles may give each character a distinctive voice.
[Following sections from Microsoft Encarta]
A simple style uses common words and simple sentences, even if the situation described is complex. The effect of the simple style can be to present facts to the reader without appealing to the reader’s emotions directly. Instead, the writer relies on the facts themselves to affect the reader. American author Ernest Hemingway is widely known for a spare, economical style that nevertheless provokes an emotional reaction. His novel 
A Farewell to Arms (1929) opens with a simple yet powerful description:
In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves. 

A complex style uses long, elaborate sentences that contain many ideas and descriptions. The writer uses lyrical passages to create the desired mood in the reader, whether it be one of joy, sadness, confusion, or any other emotion. American author Henry James uses a complex style to great effect in novels such as The Wings of the Dove (1902): 

The two ladies who, in advance of the Swiss season, had been warned that their design was unconsidered, that the passes would not be clear, nor the air mild, nor the inns open—the two ladies who, characteristically had braved a good deal of possibly interested remonstrance were finding themselves, as their adventure turned out, wonderfully sustained. 

A mid-style is a combination of the simple and complex styles. It can give a neutral tone to the book, or it can provide two different effects by contrast. American writer Carson McCullers uses the mid-style in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940):

And then sometimes when he was alone and his thoughts were with his friend his hands would begin to shape the words before he knew about it. Then when he realized he was like a man caught talking aloud to himself. It was almost as though he had done some moral wrong. The shame and sorrow mixed together and he doubled his hands and put them behind him. But they would not let him rest. 

Some authors use more than one style within a novel. This approach allows the author flexibility in choosing which style is appropriate at different points in the work, depending on the situation and on the character or characters being portrayed. Novelists who have mixed styles include Herman Melville of the United States, in Moby Dick (1851); James Joyce of Ireland, inUlysses (1922); and Robert Penn Warren of the United States, inAll the King’s Men (1946).

One thought on “Techniques of the novel III: Style” by Admin (@ogaoga)

  1. @Admin Thank you so much for sharing this rather helpful lesson on the art of writing (style). It is quite useful as every writer is a beginner in a new piece of work… anticipating more of your tips on the writing craft…

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