Critiquing the work of other creators is a crucial part of creation itself. Be it music, art or literature, learners always try to dissect the masterpieces. When it comes to understanding ‘styles of writing’, reading other authors is a good place to start. However, you must take it up a notch and learn how to analyse their style.
Understanding the writing style of great authors helps you to observe their relationship with language. Each author has a unique way of conveying the mood purpose of the text. Essentially, it is not what is said but ‘how’ it is said.
An author’s style is made of a few key elements. This post explores these and also explains how to analyse them. Here’s an easy checklist that you can use:
Diction is the kind of vocabulary a writer uses. Take a look at the choice of words in a particular text. Are the words long or short, simple or complex, modern or archaic? Are these colloquial or slang words, or rather formal? Does the writer borrow from other languages and dialects?
Consider this excerpt from Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh:
“Go, go wherever you want to go. If you want to jump in a well, jump. If you want to hang like your father, go and hang. It is my lot to weep. My kismet…. it is all written there.”
Singh has used plenty of Hindi words like kismet, sahib, budmash, etc. This makes the characters in rural India seem more realistic.
● Sentence structure and length:
Ponder over whether the sentences are long or short or whether the author plays around with the length to create a rhythm. Observe if the sentences are fragmented or complete. Do they include a lot of commas and have a complex structure or are they straightforward? Are there any run-on sentences?
Try to see how these choices influence the mood or the meaning. Many authors like to maintain a variety of long and short sentences to strike a good rhythm, like Ernest Hemingway in his book The Old Man and the Sea:
“The punishment of the hook is nothing. The punishment of hunger, and that he is against something that he does not comprehend, is everything. Rest now, old man, and let him work until your next duty comes.”
● Use of dialogue:
We are all aware that dialogue is an integral part of most narrative writings. The dialogues an author uses can set the tone and the mood. They reveal the traits and motives of the characters and move the story forward.
Some authors tend to rely heavily on dialogues, thus minimizing narration. This gives a sense of fast action and intrigue, while others have the narrator taking ample space between dialogues, setting a slow pace.
The choice of dialogues is deeply intertwined with diction. Also, the choice of words in the dialogue reflect when and where the story is taking place.
● Figures of Speech:
Writers employ figures of speech without even trying. You can analyse if there is any pattern of them using metaphors or similes a lot.
Do they explore symbols, motifs and foreshadowing to make the story more mysterious? Are they vivid with the use of imagery? Are they personifying a non-living object?
Consider this fragment of a sentence from O Henry’s short story, The Gift of Magi:
“… and looked out dully at a grey cat walking a grey fence in a grey backyard”
We see imagery, symbolism using the colour grey to show despair, as well as repetition here.
● Sound devices:
Writing is not just about words written on paper; there’s a sense of music in it too. Authors use a variety of sound devices to create a phonetic impact with their words and sentences. This clearly has an impact on their overall style, tone and mood.
Onomatopoeia, repetition, alliteration and internal rhyme are some basic devices that writers commonly use. There are subtle ways in which choice of words and sentence structure also affect the way a text sounds.
“Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.”
This famous extract from Shakespeare’s Macbeth has alliteration, rhyme and an overall highly engaging phonetic impact.
You can also see whether there is linear structure and chronology in the narrative. Try to understand how it affects your interaction with the story. Notice if there are any flashbacks or flash-forwards in the story.
Virginia Woolf broke the rules of chronology in her book Mrs. Dalloway. The story only covers one day of the character’s life but is interspersed with flashbacks in a random sequence. This renders a disorienting nature to Woolf’s style.
The way a writer interacts with their work determines their tone. It shows their attitude towards the text or the events in a story. You can describe the tone in a variety of words.
You can ask yourself whether the tone is empathetic or condescending. Is it critical or sarcastic? Light and breezy or dark and sullen? Is it objective and distant or intimate? Is it humorous or serious? Think about how the tone brings out a certain emotion in you as a reader.
For instance, in the short story The Gift of Magi, the tone is warm, friendly and wise. It is as if the narrator is an old, wise man looking empathetically at the young and impulsive characters.
Learn Writing Online:
You get to learn a lot about writing by critiquing other authors’ style and picking elements that appeal to you. The art of writing needs time to develop and refine. So, just keep writing! For more tips on how to find your own writing style, join the unluclass by none other than Ruskin Bond.