On Style

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I have a well-thumbed copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style somewhere.

Someone recommended the Chicago Manual of Style, a book that covers every aspect of grammar. I found a few second hand copies on ebay selling for $70. Too expensive. So I went to the local library and asked if they could get me a copy. “Is this a fashion book?” the girl asked me. A reasonable assumption, I thought.

I would have thought the term “style” applied to writing should mean much more than whether or not an author puts his/her commas in the right places. To my mind, style should mean the author’s approach to the written word. My notion of style is the flavour of what we read. It springs from the writer’s background and the art that s/he puts into his/her prose. Who would expect a modern writer of women’s fiction to write in the same style as Jane Austen, say?

Here’s a few examples:

PG Wodehouse wrote in a style a million miles removed from, say, Christopher Moore, although they both write laugh-out-loud comedy.

The styles of Charles Dickens and Albert Camus are poles apart, principally because Dickens uses so many words, Camus so few.

Raymond Chandler’s style is characterised by what he himself described as wisecracks, Oscar Wilde’s stock in trade was the aphorism, just as wise certainly, but lacking the same craic.

Alastair McLean and Joseph Kanon both wrote WWII stories, but would anybody confuse their styles?

Likewise, John le Carre and Len Deighton with the spy story. Two very different styles of writing. I could go on, of course, but I think I’ve made my point.

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