When tackling the art of fiction writing, it’s common to immerse yourself in the fundamentals: plot, structure, characters—the building blocks that demand time and mastery. Surprisingly, writing style often takes a backseat initially, with early attempts appearing clunky and derivative. It’s all part of the growth process.
I think it wasn’t until my fifth novel that I hit my stride and found my writing voice for my fantasy series. If you’re just beginning to venture into fiction, be patient! You have a lot of plates to juggle, and developing a unique, fresh, and compelling voice will take time and work.
Keep in mind, of course, that genre sets the rules. When the publisher of my fantasy series read my relational drama Someone to Blame, he told me he never would have guessed that I wrote that. He couldn’t recognize my writing style at all.
As it should be. Every time I’ve written in a different genre, I’ve studied best sellers and taken notes. Then I practiced until my prose fit right in. One of the best reviews I got (from The Examiner) stated that I nailed the sweet historical Western romance genre, and that Colorado Promise (the first in my Front Range series) was a perfect example of that mastery.
Imitating the Masters
Much like a toddler learning to speak by mimicking adults, new writers often start by emulating established authors. This imitation is not just flattery but a smart learning strategy. By studying and imitating the style of great writers in your genre, you gain insights on how to craft your stories.
However, at some point, you must release your tight grip and venture into writing with your unique style. There’s no magic moment, but as you experiment, take chances, and let your imagination roam, your distinct voice begins to emerge.
Listening to Your Body
Okay, I know that might sound weird, but I learned this truth from mystery writer Elizabeth George. Your body will tell you if what you are writing is “spot-on” or if there is something off about it. The key to finding your unique writing style lies in being true to yourself.
Have you ever written a passage you really liked and wanted to use, but you had this nagging feeling it didn’t work? Then, when you squelched that warning and shared your passage with your critique team, what happened?
They all responded the same way. It doesn’t work, they said. It feels wrong. Maybe they had more specific responses for you that helped you see why and in what ways that passage didn’t work. But, hey, you already knew that. Or, you would have, had you listened to what your body was telling you.
There’s an uneasy feeling of discomfort a seasoned writer gets when she veers away from a true and honest writing voice and starts forcing the style for one reason or another. Then again, a writer can just get burned out, or have days or weeks in which she feels uncreative and can’t seem to come up with effective prose that feels like her true voice.
Listen to your body as you write—it will be honest with you. That uneasy feeling when deviating from your true voice is a signal to course-correct.
Inspiration and Creativity
Inspiration for just the right writing style can come from various sources. Reading exceptional prose before writing, as suggested by Elizabeth George, can jumpstart creativity. However, fine-tuning passages, experimenting with different tenses or tones, and using prompts can all be part of honing your style.
You’ve probably heard the adage “garbage in, garbage out.” And then there’s “you are what you eat”—which could be rewritten to “you write what you read.” Keep in mind that reading a lot of drivel (you can determine what constitutes that) can adversely affect your writing.
Be wary of asking for feedback from others. Oftentimes well-meaning critics will end up curtailing your creativity. Conversely, if readers are noticing problems with your style, pay attention and see what you can learn from their criticism (which, I hope, is kind and encouraging).
Keep These Tips in Mind
- Emulate great writers in your genre to learn and understand writing styles.
- Experiment and take chances to let your unique writing style emerge.
- Spend time freewriting in the voice of your characters, to get to know them well. But keep in mind that their “voice” is different from your voice.
- Listen to your body while writing; discomfort signals you need to push through to stronger, better writing.
- Find inspiration from reading excellent prose and fine-tune your style through diligent work.
Be patient as you do your homework and play around with your writing style. Over time, you will be amazed at what your creative mind will conjure, if you let it.
Do you have any methods for drawing out a unique, strong writing style? Share in the comments!