Style in Fiction: Dialect & Figures of Speech

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  • 0:01 What Is Style?
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Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will explore style in fiction. We will define style and explore some of the elements writers use to create their own personal styles.

What is Style?

Have you ever heard someone say 'I really like that writer's style'? What did that person mean?

The word style is one that we use very often, but that we might not fully understand, especially when it's used in reference to a piece of fiction. In this lesson, we're going to define style and take a look at the elements that contribute to a writer's style.

Style in fiction is a writer's verbal identity, which he or she constructs by choosing various words, putting those words together in particular ways, and employing specifically selected figures of speech. A writer's style is personal and unique and distinguishes his or her work from that of all other writers.

There are as many different styles as there are writers. Some writers use a fast-paced style, others prefer a slow drawl. Some writers employ a sharp, straightforward style, others choosing a winding, mysterious style. Some writers adopt a harsh, gritty style, others favor smooth elegance. Styles differ through time too, as various writing conventions became fashionable and then faded away.

Elements of Style: Language Choices

Writers build their personal styles from a number of different elements. Some of these are deliberate language choices, in which a writer selects one word over another, determines how to put those words together, and makes decisions about whether or not to include dialogue.

Let's examine these elements of style in more detail:

1.) Diction is simply word choice, selecting one word over another. Writers can choose mostly formal words, mostly informal words, or a combination of both. Compare the following sentences:

  • He took a seat on the sofa and waited patiently for the family to congregate.
  • He plopped on the couch and waited patiently for the family to gather.

The first is formal, the second is informal. Notice the difference in style?

2.) Sentence structure or syntax refers to the ways in which writers put words together. Some writers use simple sentences like this:

  • She saw the cat running up the tree. She grabbed her phone and called the fire department.

Others choose more complex arrangements like this:

  • She saw the cat running up the tree, so she grabbed her phone and called the fire department.

Writers can also create sentences that sound a little strange to our ears when they are trying to emphasize a point. Here's an example:

  • Up the tree went the cat! The woman standing below grabbed her phone and called the fire department.

See how the writer is making a special effort to point out the cat's actions?

3.) Writers can also select to use abstract or concrete language. Abstract language describes concepts and ideas, while concrete language focuses on the objects, events, and sensory details.

A writer who wants to describe love could try to define love in an abstract way, by discussing the characteristics of love. Or she could use the more concrete method of showing two characters in love.

4.) A writer's use of dialogue and dialect is another important element of his or her style. Dialogue is conversation between characters. Some writers use quite a lot of dialogue, others only a little bit, and still others a moderate amount. Dialect identifies the particular ways in which a character speaks and emphasizes the character's accent, pronunciation, word choice, and spelling. Compare the following sentences:

  • I think the sun will shine today.
  • I reckon that ol' sun is gonna shine too-day!

The latter is written in dialect.

Elements of Style: Figures of Speech

Figures of speech can also contribute to a writer's style. Some writers use them heavily, others just a bit, and still others not much at all. Writers can select from figures of speech like the following:

1.) Imagery appeals to the reader's senses through descriptive language.

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