What Is Style?

Generally speaking, you know what style is. It’s a way of presenting oneself to the world. To be “stylish” means to wear clothes that reflect the latest trends, with just enough originality to avoid seeming like a copycat. There are different styles of homes, cars, appliances, and even lives. Our personal lifestyle reflects where we choose to live, dress, recreate, and socialize. Style is everywhere.

How Do You Identify Style in Writing?

Many of these same points relate to writing style. Some writers invent signature style characteristics. Emily Dickinson, for instance, invented her own system of punctuation — using open-ended dashes instead of periods — while e.e. cummings sought to democratize language by ridding his poems of upper case letters. Some writers use stream-of-consciousness; others, like Henry James, employ long sentences with many parenthetical asides.

Writers are not just mavericks, though. The style of any given literary period is bound to have more similarities than differences, for the same reason people wore shoulder pads in the 1980s. In the nineteenth century, many novelists used an omniscient narrator and wrote stories with a great many realistic details. Within that larger style, there are variations and some outright innovators.

In addition to styles for each literary period, there are also writing styles suited to different purposes, or modes, of writing. These four main styles are narrative, expository, persuasive, and descriptive.

  • Narrative writing is the category most fiction falls into. It’s purpose is to tell a story.
  • Expository writing compares and contrasts or lays out the objective merits of its subject.
  • Persuasive writing uses facts and emotions to sway the reader toward the validity of an argumentative claim set forward at the beginning.
  • Descriptive writing does just that, describes a person, place or thing with vivid and concrete sensory details.

Examples of Style

Style Example 1. A newspaper editorial has a persuasive style.

Style Example 2. A newspaper article, on the other hand, is expository.

Style Example 3. Both novels and short stories are narratives.

Style Example 4. Fictional works with gothic elements and natural imagery are indicative of a Romantic style of writing.

Style Example 5. Fiction with stream-of-consciousness, first person point of view, and artist heroes reflect the literary style of the Modern Era.

Style Example 6. Descriptive style is the backbone of most lyric poetry.


(View all literary devices)