|Style to a writer is like the clothes we wear. It’s how we first present ourselves to the world, that initial impression. |
Most writers are known by how they write, perhaps more than what they write about. Truman Capote, a fabulous stylist, argued that there are thousands of stories, but how they’re told differentiates one writer from another. Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Gabriel García Márquez, Raymond Chandler and Elmore Leonard are distinguished among the majority of wonderful writers by their unique and truly inimitable voices. Can style be learned? Can a distinct voice and elegant or provocative use of language be guided and taught?
One could argue that we no more choose the voice we write with than we choose our mannerisms, our preferences in clothes or foods, the tone of our speaking voice. If that is so, then style arises out of some unnamed muse, and the words we write pour forth from a hidden wellspring whose location and identity we can never know.Yet it can also be instructive to read those writers whose voices inspire us, not so much to imitate, as to absorb aesthetically, to gain a feel for how words are strung together. If we admire F. Scott Fitzgerald’s smoothly polished prose, why not reread The Great Gatsby or Tender Is the Night to see what we might glean from his voice? If we prefer the spare, bare-bones prose of Elmore Leonard, we ought to read his work carefully, maybe discovering what he’s done that could suit our own writing.
We can never read too much, because style eventually arises from both the books we’ve read and the ones we hope to write. Finding that best voice for the story we want to tell is often all we need to become the writer we’ve always sought after but were unable to find.