I. What is Style?
While you may not think about it all the time, there’s a lot more to literature than storylines and content. In literature, style is the way in which an author writes and/or tells a story. It’s what sets one author apart from another and creates the “voice” that audiences hear when they read. There are many important pieces that together make up a writer’s style; like tone, word choice, grammar, language, descriptive technique, and so on. Style is also what determines the mood of a piece of literature, so its importance is huge across all genres. Different types of literature need different styles, and different styles need different authors!
Truthfully, style can be hard to define because it varies so much from each piece of literature to the next. Two authors can write about the exact same thing, and yet the styles of the pieces could be nothing like each other because they would reflect the way each author writes. An author’s style might even change with each piece he writes. When it comes to style, what comes easy for one author might not work for another; what fits one genre may not fit for others at all; what thrills one group of readers may bore another. A reader might love a certain genre or subject, but dislike an author’s style, and vice versa. In fact, it’s not unusual to hear people say about a novel or a movie, “it was a good story, but I didn’t like the style.”
While there are specific types of styles of writing, this article will focus on style’s overall role in literature.
II. Examples of Style
Rather than merely sharing information, style lets an author share his content in the way that he wants. For example, say an author needs to describe a situation where he witnessed a girl picking a flower:
- She picked a red rose from the ground.
- Scarlet was the rose that she plucked from the earth.
- From the ground she delicately plucked the ruby rose, cradling it in her hands as if it were a priceless jewel.
As you can see, there are many ways to share the same basic information. An author can give a short and simple sentence, like #1. Or, he could use more descriptive words and a poetic sentence structure, like in #2, with phrases like “scarlet was the rose” instead of “the rose was red.” Finally, an author could use imagery to paint a picture for the audience and add feeling to the sentence, like in #3.
In another example, let’s say the writer is now assigned the job of describing that same rose in a short poem. Read these two:
These poems use two different styles to describe the same thing: a rose. The poem on the left rhymes and has a simpler, more direct style with easy vocabulary. The poem on the right, however is more descriptive and expressive—more “poetic”—and that’s because of tone and word choice. The first poem describes the rose in a basic way, while the second seems to express the author’s understanding of a rose. For instance, the author chooses more specific colors, like “emerald” and “scarlet” instead of “green” and “red,” and describes the rose by relating it to other things, like “smooth velvet.” The style of the first poem would be great from young readers, while the second is definitely targeting an adult audience. That’s because, as you can see, some of the language of the second poem would be too difficult for young readers to understand.
III. Parts of Style
Here are some key parts that work together to make up a piece of literature’s style:
- Diction: the style of the author’s word choice
- Sentence structure: the way words are arranged in a sentence
- Tone: the mood of the story; the feeling or attitude a work creates
- Narrator: the person telling the story and the point-of-view it is told in
- Grammar and the use of punctuation
- Creative devices like symbolism, allegory, metaphor, rhyme, and so on
Some authors combine these factors to create a distinct style that is found in all of their works, like Dr. Seuss (see Examples in Literature). Other authors, however, may choose to write each of their works in a different style.
IV. Importance of Style
Style is what distinguishes one author from the next. If everyone used the same style, it would impossible for any writer or piece of literature to truly stand out. While style has a role in all types of literature, its role in works of fiction is what’s discussed most often. That’s because style is an essential, defining thing for fiction authors—so stories have been and will be retold over and over, but it’s an author’s style that can make a work truly stand out and change the way a reader thinks about what literature. In fact, it’s really impossible to imagine what literature would be like without any style.
V. Examples of Style in Literature
As shown above, fairy tales are great examples of how the same story can be told in very different ways. Since they have been retold over and over for centuries, the style of their telling changes from one speaker or author to the next. Let’s take the classic fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood.” Here is a selection from the original written version of tale by Charles Perrault:
Little Red Riding Hood set out immediately to go to her grandmother, who lived in another village. As she was going through the wood, she met with a wolf, who had a very great mind to eat her up, but he dared not, because of some woodcutters working nearby in the forest. He asked her where she was going. The poor child, who did not know that it was dangerous to stay and talk to a wolf, said to him, “I am going to see my grandmother and carry her a cake and a little pot of butter from my mother.”
Now, here is a selection from the version found in Grimm’s Fairy Tales:
The grandmother lived out in the wood, half a league from the village, and just as Little Red Riding Hood entered the wood, a wolf met her. Red Riding Hood did not know what a wicked creature he was, and was not at all afraid of him.
‘Good day, Little Red Riding Hood,’ said he.
‘Thank you kindly, wolf.’
‘Whither away so early, Little Red Riding Hood?’
‘To my grandmother’s.’
‘What have you got in your apron?’
‘Cake and wine; yesterday was baking-day, so poor sick grandmother is to have something good, to make her stronger.’
These two versions of the same part of the story are very different from each other. They both give the same overall information, but the Perrault’s version is shorter and less detailed, with very little dialogue. Actually, Perrault’s story ends after Red Riding Hood is eaten, while the Brothers Grimm’s story continues—it’s several times as long and includes more imagery, more dialogue, and even more characters. The point of Perrault’s story was to teach a lesson, while the point of the story found in Grimm’s Fairy Tales was more for entertainment—so; each author developed his own style based on his purpose.
Some authors and works remain famous in literature because of their completely unique or even unusual styles. For instance, everybody knows the works of Dr. Seuss. From How the Grinch Stole Christmas to The Cat in the Hat to One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, Dr. Seuss’s quirky, one-of-a-kind stories and poems are household names, and that’s because of his style. Here’s a classic example of Dr. Seuss’s work:
“I know some good games we could play,”
Said the cat.
“I know some new tricks,”
Said the Cat in the Hat.
“A lot of good tricks.
I will show them to you.
Will not mind at all if I do.”
Like in this passage from The Cat and the Hat, Dr. Seuss uses unusual sentence structures and fun-sounding rhyme schemes to make his stories silly and memorable, and it works. He also includes all kinds of strange vocabulary in his stories, sometimes even making up words and creatures to fit his rhymes, whereas other authors would simply change their vocabulary to follow sounds.
VI. Examples of Style in Pop Culture
Sometimes, two artists with very different styles can tell the same story. For instance, in 2012 two movies came out that each told a version of a well-known story, but the two were basically opposites of each other. Snow White and the Huntsman and Mirror Mirror are both adaptations of the classic fairy tale Snow White. But, while Mirror Mirror is a light-hearted comedy adventure for families, Snow White and the Huntsman is a dark fantasy adventure that would terrify a young viewer. Their trailers capture how vastly different two versions of one story can be:
Snow White and the Huntsman
Now you can see that if it weren’t for the name Snow White, you would likely not know that these two films had any relation to each other. While one artist chose to focus on love and humor, the other chose to focus on the battle of good versus evil and intense human emotions.
The famous tragedy Romeo and Juliet is perhaps literature’s most famous love story. However, since Shakespeare’s works are difficult to read, people may write them off as boring. But, changing the style of the way a story is shared can make it appealing and interesting for people who may not like the original. In the film Romeo + Juliet, the director tells the story in a hip, modern setting with relatable characters:
While the film tells the exact same story as the original Romeo and Juliet, even using the exact same language, its rough, flashy style is fresh and relevant for today’s audiences. Here, Verona, Italy is replaced with Verona Beach, California; instead of swords and robes, the actors bear guns and tattoos.
In conclusion, style is has a central role in every piece of literature, from prose to poetry. It gives both the author and his text a voice, allowing works of all genres and topics to be shared and expressed in ways that are memorable, intriguing, and different. If all authors and genres followed the same style, the world of literature would be a dull, unchanging place!