So this past weekend we celebrated a public holiday known as Heritage Day. It fell on a Sunday which made Monday automatically a public holiday. I was so disorientated I messed up my blog scheduling for this week (too many free days in a row). So this was supposed to be on Tuesday. My book review (condensed version is up on Goodreads) didn’t make it for Wednesday and I completely missed last week’s Friday Fiction (the story I wanted to tell has escaped me too.)
In short, I apologise profusely for my inconsistency. Right on to writing styles…
Writing horror can be quite an interesting experience. In my long history of reading horrors, I have come across varying styles that sway between simple easy horror (Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine) to truly macabre filth (Books of Blood by Clive Barker) and all the in-betweens on that sharpened swinging pendulum. When it comes to my own writing, my style switches with my mood, and my emotions as I stated in my Genre Writing: Fundamentals post.
Before we dig into that, let me give a quick overview of what Writing Styles entail:
Pretty self explanatory but basically it is the selection of words that guide the story. Each word should convey a particular mood, intention or perspective, either towards the character, their disposition, or the world around them.
Similar to word choice, sentence structure is how you use your words to build sentences that push the story forward. Things like sentence length, flow, whether it is active or passive voice (uhhh active always please), the type of sentence it is (simple, complex, compound), syntax, punctuation etc. all contribute to the overall perception of the story. These will vary with perspective, character, and voice.
“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
― Rudyard Kipling
The voice is the style by which the story is told. A YA novel might have a more colloquial/informal voice that is light to read, while an adult novel may use a harsher, stark voice that carries stronger undertones. The voice carries the personality/disposition of the character or narrator. You wouldn’t want your nefarious, evil entity to have the voice of a juvenile thirteen year old (unless that’s what you’re going for of course). Voice is very important and can make or break your novel.
Each of these writing styles define the perspective, and the kind of writing you’re doing. Most novels will follow a descriptive (explain a picture through words) or narrative (share a story) style, while how-to’s and academic papers will be expository (explain concepts) and persuasive (convince reader of author’s opinion), respectively. Remember: You still have the option of writing your novel in either of these styles.
In short, a writing style defines how you tell your story. You can have the same scene, in the same genre, written in multiple ways, and each one will be different and unique.
“When you are trying to find your writing voice don’t try to emulate any writer, not even your favorite. Sit quietly, listen, listen again, then listen some more and write out everything the voice says with no censoring – none – not one word.”
― Jan Marquart, The Basket Weaver
My Horror Writing Style
As for me, my writing style varies so much it’s hard to pin-point one particular voice, and my sentence construction flows from the story itself which means it differs per idea. I do know my word choice tends to be quite similar and I always have to have a thesaurus/dictionary open to vary that up. My style is also quite descriptive because I want the reader to see what I’m seeing in my head. (and suffer with me!)
Here is an analysis of my writing styles, each affected by mood.
The “Have a Nice Day” Horror
My writing style when I’m in an uplifted mood, tends to sway towards bright cheery days where evil lurks just around the corner. These will have the everyday Jane and John in a regular situation which ends up going very badly, usually very quickly.
Word Choices: Bright colours. Sunlit environs. Happy general public. Hints at something off-colour or dark.
Sentence Structure: Long, flowing sentences with too much punctuation. Dialogue.
Voice: Optimistic. Innocent. Unoffending. Light.
In these cases, I barely show the horror as visceral (no gore) but rather hint at it. It’s not about experiencing the physical horror, but the psychological horror. Varies between first and third person depending on idea or character.
Example: Friday Fiction: The Playground
The sunlit jungle gyms and slides were half obscured by uniformed, screaming children. They scampered about like mice, eyes alive, front teeth missing, dirt and dust over their shorts and skirts and shirts and knee length socks. One of them, on his way down the scorching, silver pole leading to the graveled floor, looked across the playground. Three of the fourth graders were leading a second grader towards Big School. They weren’t allowed there during school hours. Not at all.
The “I’m Depressed – Hate the World” Horror
My writing style when I’m in a dejected, not-feeling-this-sunlight mood, drifts towards heavy introspection and characters in a dreary state. These will have a particular Jane and John at a low point in their life and things just get worse.
Word Choices: Dull colours. Sunlit but shaded or just grey skies. Non-existent populace or very closed off. Horror disguised as hope.
Sentence Structure: Longer, flowing sentences of descriptions to create an atmosphere of despondency.
Voice: Morose but hopeful. On the line between innocent and guilt. Heavy. Moody.
In these cases, it is about the character themselves and how the mind can bend even the best of things into afflictions. Psychological horror manifesting into physical. Usually third person to detach myself from the character while being true to the character.
Example: Friday Fiction: Fear and Fervor
He sleeps deeply and soundly. The dark tendrils of oily curled hair tumbled down to his chin like a frayed curtain. Near his bare feet lies a canvas still heavy with wet paint. Each corner holds a random item that keeps the canvas from rolling in. An iron stands in one corner, the severed cord wrapped in dark tape. In another corner is the other half of Eduardo’s wearable Jordan’s, the bottom half yawning with yellow strands of loosening superglue. The foot of an aged table, and one of the three metal stools keep the remaining corners down.
The – Excited Let’s Terrify Them Horror
This one is rare, and is usually in that phase between the first two styles. Usually the Jane and John see themselves justified in some way but the horror is there to humble them. Or they’ve walked into an unexpected situation that shifts from normal to horror very quickly.
Word Choices: Bright colours mixed in with disgusting variations. Use senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch) Sunlit but shaded or almost greying skies. Varied populace and mood to show a more realistic perspective. Blatant horror with gore.
Sentence Structure: Varied, descriptive sentences to break the thin film of normalcy and horror. Fear is key.
Voice: Varied and focused on the psychological turmoil that will be augmented by physical horror. Blurred line between innocence and guilt. Varying mood and atmosphere.
When I’m in this mood, there’s no telling how far I’ll fall to the dark side, and whether I am the abyss you stare into… and I stare back. It’s about the characters and their reaction to the horror they are about to face. Usually first person in order to write what the character experiences.
Example: Friday Fiction: Frank
“Bella? It’s me, William.”
I stepped closer, avoiding the spillage. Iced pins prickled my chest. I fought the thrum rattling my bones – smoothed the aroused hairs along my nape with trembling hand.
She began a slow swivel, golden rays refining her locks to dazzling white tresses. The first thing the glare revealed was the braided tongue-like cord, and the dangling pulped egg that was her eye. My gut lurched with the stench wafting from the gaping abyss that was the rest of her cragged, hollowed face.
“He’s coming Will.” a greyed tongue languidly dripped yolk rivulets to the floor. The muck broiled, a single eye floating to the surface. Frank.
Sorry about the long post, there’s a lot to cover and I didn’t even get through it all. Have you found any distinctions in your writing style between stories? Do you consider voice, word choice, sentence structure etc when you’re writing? Does it change with genre? I would love to know.
So I’m awed that you can analyze your styles within the same genre, that you can recognize them. After reading this I feel like I need to delve deeper into the process. I just pick up my laptop and start clacking away, no intention, no idea of voice. Consciously at least. Thanks for broadening my perspective!
It’s a recently acquired skill. Now that I do a lot of analysis on my technical writing, I found I could use the same concepts in my fictional writing too. Although I must admit I only see these “styles” after I have written so I’m not completely aware of it all the time haha.
Thank you for your kind words, they encourage me to continue writing!