I don’t like your style


Style me this.

We’ve delved into the realm of voice before, but what about style? When questioned, agents and publishers agree that the “wrong” style is one of their top five reasons for rejecting a manuscript.

There is a difference between choosing style and being chosen by it.

Historical writers tend to overindulge in styles that are too archaic for the modern reader. Romance writers often fall into the trap of using a sickly florid style. The trendy amongst us lean towards a style that is too minimalist to be enjoyable. Others still can have styles that are either too clipped or too protracted. For graduate students – I number myself amongst them – the main stylistic error is the academic one.

When we think of a writer’s style, we tend to describe it in terms of the “feel” of their prose. If the feel is one of self-indulgence then chances are the style has been misused.

There are no clear cut ways of identifying whether the style is wrong, but I will try to enumerate a few that might be of help if you believe that your prose is suffering from stylistic errors. I find that the best way to identify problems is by asking questions. Here are the ones I use to correct mistakes in my own prose:

  1. Does the writing feel forced or exaggerated in any way? Does it fit the point of view character or am I – the author – intruding into the story?
  2. Am I showing off? Did I inadvertently use the novel to exhibit for my writing prowess rather than to tell a story?
  3. What will a reader notice first: my writing or the story? Is my writing too noticeable?
  4. Do I tell the same story again and again in a slightly different way? Is much of my writing overextended or redundant
  5. Do I write for myself or the reader? Have I become self-indulgent in my prose?

At times I’ve discovered that I was too precious about my writing and this got in the way of my telling the story. I had to be ruthless and cut those fragments – pages or even whole chapters at times – and start again. I decided that it was more important for the reader to enjoy the story, be absorbed into the life and world I created, rather than sit back and enjoy my pretty writing.

Next, I interviewed my characters, especially the protagonists, and let them answer in their own voice. This allowed me to return to the story and tell it from the point of view of the characters and in their style rather than my own. Fitting style to the story is key.

Telling, rather than writing a story first was also a great help in breaking away from both florid and overly academic writing styles. Subsequently, I was able to write prose that had a “natural” feel to it.

I shortened sentences that were too long. Some sentences that were too short and did not work in that particular context, I combined with others to give flow to the prose. I eliminated anachronistic phrases and expressions and found modern equivalents.

To banish the academic in me I found another set of solutions:

  • Cutting out passages that preached about life and politics – this was not the place to argue about the redundancy of Scottish independence.
  • Whenever an idea had been expressed in a roundabout way, I cut the whole. If there was a straightforward way of saying it, I did. If not – I left it out.
  • Finally, all quotes were eliminated – no need to reference “the greats.” This is fiction after all.

The easiest way to improve your style is by searching through your prose for repetition. If you made the same point twice then pick the best option and cut the other one out. If you made your point well the first time around, the second will be redundant.

One more thing and then I’m off the style box:

If you think you have a style problem then letting go of your style may be the best solution. To do this, write down the main “talking points” then tell the story out loud and record it. This should help you discover what your “natural” style is.

Once I did this, I found that the feel of my prose improved. Hope this will be the case for you too. 



What do you see when you look in the mirror? And the mirror? What does the mirror see when it looks into you?

She wished that she could reach into that other world and demand a decision. Not a small decision about this or that part of her life, but a momentous decision… That all-changing look the other way. She had been searching for answers in all the wrong places, trying to avoid making a choice. It was madness to even think it. Could she leave all behind, start again? Will she?

– How do you feel?

– Trapped. Trapped by promises I’ve made in good faith and can no longer keep. Trapped by a sense of duty.

– Why do you waiver?

– Because of what I have to forfeit if I stay.

– And what is that?

– Love.

– Are you certain it’s love?

– No. It is not. It is the chance to find it out.

– Only the possibility of it? It does not seem like much to give up…

– You wouldn’t say so if you felt the way I do.

– How do you feel?

– Resentful. Resentful of the life that has entrapped me with its shine and lustre. A life that had me… domesticated. I used to be a wolf. I hunted my own prey. I’ve lost my hunger. That hunger was all that I had. It drove me forward through this pointless, purposeless existence. I am sated and discontented. I want to find the wolf within again.

– What’s stopping you?

– What I have to forfeit if I leave.

– Security?

– No. It is not. It’s so much more than that. I would be cut out from my pack, ostracised from the world that I spent a lifetime building.

– And won’t you take the risk? Walk out of the door?

– I am too afraid. I fear the unknown. I fear being alone, helpless, with no one to care whether I live or die. I fear that all that awaits me on the other side is the abyss… endless misery and untimely death.

– Then you must conquer your fears.

– How can I?

– I do not know. It is a mystery.

Does it speak to you, that face beyond the pale? It was only a mirror – a reflection.

Twinned lives. One decision. Infinite possibilities.

vicbriggs for HarsH ReaLiTy


This article was first published as a guest post on HarsH ReaLiTy: http://aopinionatedman.com/2013/11/10/unfaithful/ with the following reblog message: My fourth contribution to HarsH ReaLiTy is somewhat of a departure from the rule. It is a snapshot into the inner world of a woman whose life is falling apart, and who slowly, but surely descends into madness. She thinks that what’s at stake is her marriage, her life as she knows it. But what she does not yet realise, is that in delaying her decision, she risks losing her sanity.

Cruel Games

The day after my thirteenth birthday, father told me that Tom would be coming to stay with us for the summer.

Tom was my step-brother, and I hated his guts. I’d not seen him in nearly three years, not since the cupboard debacle.

The incident had surprised and upset my father at the time. What he didn’t know was that, for as long as I could remember, Tom had made a sport of tormenting me.

No, he certainly failed to display any brotherly feelings whatsoever.

Had I known then what I’ve since found out, his despotism would’ve surprised me even less…



Asymmetric. Tango for One.


Asymmetric. Tango for One.

My life was one of poetry
And now it’s vapid prose.

Within those empty phrases
How can one find repose?

Besieged by thoughts, I slumber.
And yet am not appeased…

How can one find fulfilment,
When lusts – all – must be pleased?

Within deliberation
There is but vain contentment.

Death must be then the only
Remaining valid statement.