Tone. Voice. Color. Style. These are four of the many terms that we toss about when attempting to describe the qualities of a piece of writing. Defining these is tricky, so any time we are offered a bit of clarity we should grab it.
I’ve begun listening to a series of lectures by Brooks Landon of The University of Iowa. They are talks focused on crafting sentences – how and why they work.
In the first lecture he states that style is a result of content. What is in the sentence – how it is constructed, what is there and what is not – determines the style.
I thought that style was much more elusive than that. A week ago I may have written something as tangled and sideways as: “the footprint left by a writer from the accumulated weight of his/her sensibilities, derived from the way they think about, feel, and experience life – this mash-up is what we call style.” Oh dear.
Landon’s explanation is fulfilling because it makes the writing, not the writer, the central focus. Instead of delving into the rocky terrains of psychology, micro-culture, and worldview, we are guided instead to consider syntax, word choice, and phrasing.
One way to test this is to transfer the principle into other creative mediums.
Does not the material from which a suit is made and the way this material is put together determine the suit’s style?
Do not the plants and the design of their beds determine the style of the garden?
Does not the choice of music and the choreography applied to it determine the style of the dance?
The power of your work is in the sentences, and nowhere else. And the choices you make about what is on the page and how it is consumed by your reader amounts to your style.
No need to dig further.
Thank you Professor Landon.