Anyone who has been engaged in the craft of writing for any length of time has developed a uniquely personal style. During the last three years in Chapman’s English and Creative Writing program, my own narrative style has been described as meticulous, high, ornamental, tedious, lovely, distracting, measured, and obsolete. While some of these modifiers may sound complimentary and affirming, particularly to one who chooses her words with the utmost precision, all but “lovely” was intended as a well-meaning nudge in a different direction. Apparently, my writing style is redolent of rambling 19th century narratives that would never sell today but which I adore and, I’m sure, unconsciously attempt to emulate.
I’ve struggled to understand when and why ostensibly “good” writing became that which is barren of metaphors, similes, and all but absolutely essential details and descriptions. I’ve diligently and painfully culled every darling from early drafts of my novel chapters and short stories that isn’t crucial to understanding the characters and setting. But there’s a point at which personal style and self emerge and subdue the darling-slayer. I simply wouldn’t write about a “partially fried egg” when I could describe instead the “translucent yellow-gray bubble cooking to a grainy lump” on a hot, Arizona sidewalk.
Recently a friend and MFA peer reminded me of what William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White have to say about style:
As you become proficient in the use of language, your style will emerge, because you yourself will emerge, and when this happens you will find it increasingly easy to break through the barriers that separate you from other minds, other hearts – which is, of course, the purpose of writing, as well as its principal reward. […] Write in a way that comes easily and naturally to you, using words and phrases that come readily to hand. […] It is almost impossible to avoid imitating what one admires. Never imitate consciously, but do not worry about being an imitator; take pains instead to admire what is good. Then when you write in a way that comes naturally, you will echo the halloos that bear repeating (The Elements of Style, Longman Publishers).
I am keeping a wary eye on my tendency toward narrative adornment. I’m trading adverbs for stronger verbs and assessing the merits of every descriptive detail. However, as my style and skill continue to develop, I know that my desire and inclination to write sensuous, labyrinthine, and, yes, meticulous prose will not likely change. Style is, after all, a reflection of the self.
“Style is the dress of thoughts.” ~ Samuel Wesley