Thorsten Nesch

– Storyteller –

07 – Working on Your writing style

You can identify writing styles on very simple attributes: one author writes longer sentences, the other one shorter, or one uses more adjectives than the other. Then there are authors who avoid using “he said” in dialogue.

Some use a wide range of vocabulary, very literary, while others like it clear and true-to-life. It is all a matter of taste. The way the sentences are strung together shows a style as well, like connections with “and” or what kind of subordinate clause, and how they are put together in a paragraph or in a chapter.

Driven by curiosity, in the past I anatomized paragraphs and chapters just because it interested me. I wanted to know why one author’s writing style appeared to me to be better than the style of another, or even better, than mine. It may help you to accentuate them by marking them with colors, or just try to type out a page - or more! You'd be surprised.

You don’t need to roll your eyes. One page is not an entire fantasy world. That’s just how you’ll get a feeling for the rhythm you like. But this only has an effect if Youtube isn’t running or your phone isn’t buzzing or making funny noises every time you get a message to chat. If I write I turn all stuff off. It is my-world-time.

You can put special focus on the verbs. The more you nail them the more detailed the descriptions in the text will be and the easier it will be for your reader to be drawn into your story world. Example: There is, in fact, a difference between whether two guys in black suits at gunpoint “go” up to each other or whether one “marches” and the other one “creeps.” That speaks volumes about the situation or the character’s nature. Accurate verbs spare you from pretentious assistant adverbs. They are rarely very helpful.

Those were the differences I had felt for years. Only when I took page after page apart and inspected closer I was able to draw conclusions regarding my own style. To focus on those effects has helped me a lot as an author. Best thing: it didn’t even take long.

Nevertheless, the idea, the story and the characters need to be fascinating; otherwise, the most beautiful writing doesn’t help. At least, it doesn’t cut it for me. When I read a book, a good book, I usually clip a pen on the back cover, so I can mark passages or write down my thoughts. The positive thing about writing in a book is that you lose a bit of the still-existing respect for the so-called literature. Additionally, it’s easier to find passages again when you are searching for them.

I think it’s absolutely permissible to write your opinion in the margins of a novel. It brings them even more to life. By the way, I only do this with good books. I skip those that don’t tell me anything; I read them quickly, cross-read them or just collect information. You can also easily doodle on book pages. The pages of my Latin book from school look like the prison cell walls of a maniac who got life imprisonment in solitary confinement—day 6,309.

During anatomizing and commenting on parts of novels, I formed my own armory of abbreviations. It is not enough to simply draw lines to the edges of the words, phrases or paragraphs the whole time, later you want to know: why!

I easily forget why. By the next day I often can’t remember: Were these lines extraordinarily good or bad, funny, well-constructed, or how, or what? I’m very forgetful.

I put an ! beside the text for something good. An A stands for a good term, especially good for rhythm or sentence structure, I usually wouldn’t have chosen myself, D stands for good dialogue, B for observation, V for the characters’ behavior, S for style, and so on. I always read books with a pen; newspapers too, and magazines. Nevertheless, on the occasion I give myself the freedom to just lean back with an excellent novel and enjoy it. There’s time for marking it up when I read it a second time.

Apart from reading many good books, I suggest writing regularly. It could be a diary or even a short anecdote or flash fiction, extremely short stories. Try half a page a day. If you deem one of your stories worthy, send them to a literature magazine, or blog them online, especially if you write something like short stories regularly. One a week? Awesome! Start a blog! Why not? Maybe you’ll get feedback from a stranger. Or you might hit someone’s nerve and you are getting discovered, like the French supermarket cashier who puts her food conveyor belt adventures online. What came next for her was a book contract and a movie deal. As far as I know she isn’t a cashier anymore.

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