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A Sense of Style

by Michelle Arch

Anyone who has been engaged in the craft of writing for any length of time has developed a uniquely personal style. During the last several years in Chapman University’s dual Master of Arts in English and MFA in Creative Writing program, my own narrative manner has been described in workshops as meticulous, high, ornamental, tedious, lovely, distracting, measured, and obsolete. While some of these modifiers may appear complimentary and affirming, particularly to one who chooses her words with the utmost precision, all but “lovely” was intended as a well-meaning nudge in a different direction. Apparently, my writing style is redolent of rambling 19th century narratives that would never sell today but which I adore and, I’m sure, unconsciously (or perhaps consciously) attempt to emulate.

I’ve struggled to understand when and why ostensibly “good” writing became that which is barren of metaphors, similes, and all but absolutely essential details and descriptions. I’ve diligently and painfully culled every “darling” from early drafts of my novel chapters and short stories that isn’t crucial to understanding the characters, setting, or plot. But there’s a point at which personal style and self emerge to subdue the darling-slayer. I simply wouldn’t write about a “partially fried egg” when I could describe instead the “translucent yellow-gray bubble cooking to a grainy lump” on a hot, Arizona sidewalk.

Recently a writer friend and MFA peer reminded me of what William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White have to say about style:

As you become proficient in the use of language, your style will emerge, because you yourself will emerge, and when this happens you will find it increasingly easy to break through the barriers that separate you from other minds, other hearts – which is, of course, the purpose of writing, as well as its principal reward. […] Write in a way that comes easily and naturally to you, using words and phrases that come readily to hand. […] It is almost impossible to avoid imitating what one admires. Never imitate consciously, but do not worry about being an imitator; take pains instead to admire what is good. Then when you write in a way that comes naturally, you will echo the halloos that bear repeating (The Elements of Style, Longman, 2000).

I am keeping a wary eye on my tendency toward narrative adornment. I’m trading adverbs for stronger verbs and assessing the merits of every descriptive detail. However, as my style and skill continue to develop, I know that my desire and inclination to write sensuous, labyrinthine, and, yes, meticulous prose will not likely change. Style is, after all, a reflection of the self.

Michelle Arch)Michelle Arch is a graduate student at Chapman University who is completing the MFA in Creative Writing degree in May 2014. She holds a Master of Arts degree in English, a Master of Business Administration degree, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre and English. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Modern Language Association, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, and the Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society. An excerpt from her novel in progress, Time of Death, won First Prize in the Fiction Writing Contest sponsored by The Editorial Department, Second Prize in the WestBow Press Writing Contest, and Third Prize in the Beverly Bush Smith Aspiring Writer Award competition at the 2012 Orange County Christian Writers Conference.

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One Response to A Sense of Style

  1. HG Ferguson says:

    I can tell you are a lover of language, of prose. What passes for “tight writing” today is absolutely nothing more than dumbed-down destruction of style. Indeed, one hears much about “brand” today, but not “style.” This is because conformity is imposed from the top down. Please allow the “real you” to emerge in your writing. That’s what style is. Either you let your own personal voice speak, or you succumb to the we-all-write-the-same-thing-the-same-way mantra so prevalent today, where one book is virtually indistinguishable from the one before and after it, regardless of the author. Thank you for being a voice for reason and language. It’s an encouragement. God bless!