Definition of Style

In literature, style comprises many that an author employs to create a distinct feel for a work. These devices include, but are not limited to, , , tone, , , , , and the method of narration. Style is a fundamental aspect of fiction, as it is naturally part of every work of written. Some types of writing are required to have a certain style, such as academic or journalistic writing. However, every work of creative writing takes on its own style.

Common Examples of Style

Orators are often noted for the unique style in which they speak. One of the most famous speeches of all time, Martin Luther King Junior’s “I Have a Dream” speech, was written beforehand. Yet the most famous part of the speech—the of “I have a dream”—was actually not part of the planned script and was instead Martin Luther King Jr. speaking extemporaneously in a style similar to that of a preacher. Here are some excerpts of famous speeches that have distinct styles of their own:

Significance of Style in Literature

As stated above, the definition of style is such that it occurs in every work of prose ever written. It is sometimes used to talk about poetry and as well, though it’s more commonly discussed when analyzing works of fiction. Authors make thousands of choices when writing a work of fiction, and even the very smallest choices, such as choosing to include or exclude conjunctions affect the style of a work. Style choices also include the prevalence or absence of , repetition, , , and so on. Choosing between a character driven novel and a plot driven novel is also part of an author’s style.

Authors are often known for their distinct styles, such as the direct and simple style of Ernest Hemingway or the that Virginia Woolf used. There are also authors such as James Joyce whose style varies widely from work to the next. For example, Joyce’s collection of short stories Dubliners is written in a fairly straightforward manner, especially when compared with the nearly impenetrable Finnegan’s Wake. An author’s style can also vary widely based on . For example, the style of a thriller will be very different from a novel written for young adults. Style dramatically alters the reading experience for the audience.

Examples of Style in Literature

Example #1

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland.

(“The Dead” from Dubliners by James Joyce)

riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

(Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce)

In these two contrasting examples of style, we can see a great leap from James Joyce’s earlier works to his later works. His writing style in Dubliners is descriptive yet quite direct. However, in Finnegan’s Wake, Joyce’s writing is almost unintelligible. This line is the first in the novel—note that it doesn’t even start with a capital letter—and already Joyce has used several barely understandable words.

Example #2

In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people – the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me.

(“Shooting an Elephant” from Facing Unpleasant Facts by George Orwell)

Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.

(1984 by George Orwell)

Here is another set of styles from the same author. George Orwell wrote many essays about his experiences, and uses a very drily witty style. However, when writing perhaps his most famous work of fiction Orwell is decidedly not witty and instead writes in a very cold and blunt style.

Example #3

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

(Emma by Jane Austen)

Jane Austen was noted for her novels dealing with manner and class. This style example comes from the opening description of the eponymous Emma, and shows Austen’s interest in social standing.

Example #4

He was completely integrated now and he took a good long look at everything. Then he looked up at the sky. There were big white clouds in it. He touched the palm of his hand against the pine needles where he lay and he touched the bark of the pine trunk that he lay behind.

(For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway)

Ernest Hemingway was particularly famous for his straightforward style. In this passage from the end of For Whom the Bell Tolls, we see hardly any adjectives even though it is a descriptive excerpt. Hemingway’s style was to describe scenery only in the briefest way and without any unnecessary adornment.

Example #5

Her sandals revealed an ankle bracelet and toenails painted vermilion. The sight of these nails gave Briony a constricting sensation around her sternum, and she knew at once that she could not ask Lola to play the Prince.

(Atonement by Ian McEwan)

Contemporary writer Ian McEwan is known for his psychologically astute and highly detailed style. In this example of style, we see the narrator Briony assessing another character in such detail that she makes judgments and decisions based on these miniscule details. Often the details are what end up changing the course of events drastically in McEwan’s works.