Okay, after you stop laughing – or gritting your teeth – over the alliteration in the title, I want to give you a way to study your own style. It’s relatively easy and yet it can be quite effective.
Select an Author; Select a Published Novel
What author in your genre (the genre of your present novel-in-progress) do you most admire? The one you read the most? There may be more than one and that’s even better.
Once you have selected your admired author, now grab one of his (her?) novels. Next randomly choose a page from the novel and make a photocopy of that page. It can be selected from anywhere in the novel.
Next print out a manuscript page from your novel-in-progress. This should be after the novel is well underway. At least close to the final draft form.
You will need colored pens, or highlighters, or markers. Grab your favorite beverage, move away from the computer, and get comfy.
Keep in mind this is not a condemnation study. This is a style study. This is a method by which you can begin to ascertain your own style of writing.
Time to begin the study.
Step 1: Check out sentence structure.
Are the sentences in your manuscript made up of a variation of simple, complex, and compound structure? Or are they all the same? Are the sentences top heavy with many participial phrases? (Looking up, he could see the starry sky… Reaching the shore, they jumped out of the boat…)
Now look for sentence variations in the writing of your admired author. How do they compare with yours?
Step 2: Sentence length
Count out ten consecutive sentences in your manuscript. Make a list of how many words in each sentence. Are they all the same? Or a nice mix of short and long? Add the numbers in your list and divide by ten. Now you know the average word length that you tend to write in your sentences.
Do the same with the writing of your admired author. What is this writer’s average length? How varied are the sentence lengths in this novel?
Step 3: Modifiers
Use a highlighter and highlight adjectives and adverbs used within a 100-word section of your manuscript. Now add them up. If you marked eight, then you have an 8% use of modifiers in your writing.
Now it’s time to check out the modifiers that your admired author uses. Is that writer’s percentage higher or lower than yours?
Step 4: Enunciation
We’ve looked at sentence length, now what about word length? Again work with a set of 100 words. How many words in that section of your manuscript exceed two syllables? What about three? More? Make a list.
Again, study the selected page from the novel and do the same. Take a section of 100 words and make a list of how many two- and three-syllable words (longer?) you find. Now compare.
Step 5: Last step – Verbs
Search the page of your manuscript for verbs. Count the strong verbs such as jumped, hit, turned, slammed, etc. Next count weak forms of “to be” verbs. (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been, do, does, did, has, have, had, can, may, might, must, will, shall, would, should, could)
How does your admired author handle such verbs? How does the count of strong verbs in the novel compare to the count in your manuscript page?
There you have it — five steps that can help you as your develop your style. Keep in mind that when it comes to writing style, your style is YOUR style. It’s neither right nor wrong. However, as you are developing your own style, you can still search for poor writing habits that make for a weak, indistinctive style.
By following patterns of comparison studies as I described above, you are presented with an excellent (stellar?) way to:
- Study your own style
- Improve your style
- Edit and revise
Put this task on your to do list right away!