Style refers to the ways in which we consciously or unconsciously reveal ourselves in our writing, and it should be tailored to the specific situation that prompts the writing.
Being yourself, being natural and authentic, doesn't mean being inflexible and one dimensional; it means having the confidence to respond authentically to the variety of situations that comprise your life.
These two statements seem contradictory, the first suggesting that each of us has a unique, individual voice that comes across in all our writing and the second that, chameleon-like, we should change our style to get what we want or to impress a reader. One way to resolve this is to see style as an activity, a way of relating yourself to and distinguishing yourself from others.
Thus, while you always behave in ways that are characteristically and uniquely your own, you understand that building successful relationships with other people demands sensitivity and responsiveness to their needs and interests. A sprinkling of profanity might be just the thing in a letter to an old Marine Corps buddy, but chances are you'd leave it out of a letter to your grandmother. When you go out to play touch football, you throw on your faded sweatpants and your old high-school football jersey. Later, when you eat at a nice restaurant, you put on your best Western shirt, your tooled leather belt with the silver buckle, and your lizard skin boots.
Being yourself, being natural and authentic, doesn't mean being inflexible and one-dimensional; it means having the confidence to respond authentically to the variety of situations that comprise your life.
Style in writing, as in other areas of life, is a highly personal matter. Different people have different ways of expressing themselves, and any individual may have several ways, depending on the situation. The more you grow as a writer, the more confidence you'll gain in your ability to respond readily, naturally, and effectively to the many different writing situations that you encounter.
Such confidence, however, can't be gained entirely from reading. True, you can learn the dynamics of various writing situations, develop your awareness of how slang or technical jargon affects certain readers, and become more aware of different ways to state and structure your thoughts. Such knowledge is vital to developing an effective style. But more important than abstract knowledge is the actual experience of writing. In the act of writing, and especially in sharing your writing and receiving a response, you develop a sensitivity to style, especially your own style, that no textbook can give.
In the act of writing, and especially in sharing your writing and receiving a response, you develop a sensitivity to style, especially your own style, that no textbook can give.
3.2 The adjectives in List I could be used to describe various aspects of a person's style. List II contains brief descriptions of three different writing situations. Which qualities from List I might you try to incorporate in your style for each situation in List II? Some terms may be appropriate to more than one situation, while others may be totally inappropriate. You may think of a few terms that don't appear in List I but seem appropriate for one of the writing situations. If so, jot them down.
Clever, sophisticated, grateful, confident, eager, dismayed, plain, frank, dignified, relaxed, furious, amused, worried, abrupt, cute, powerful, intelligent, sarcastic, concerned, playful, sincere, zany, friendly, distant, submissive, aloof, formal, informal, carefully considered, spontaneous, exaggerated, understated, witty.
a. Your water was shut off by the city while you were on vacation. You spent a whole day trying to call them, but all you got was a recording. Your payment was two weeks overdue but is now in the mail. You have never paid late before. The neighbor was unable to water your lawn or garden. You are writing to the director of the city water and sewage department.
b. You have four weeks left in the term. You have just learned that you have mononucleosis and will be unable to attend classes for the remainder of the term. You have told your professors. They have all been very understanding, giving you your assignments and generally going out of their way to help you finish the courses on schedule, all except your German professor. She says there is very little chance of your passing. She wants you to drop the course and take it again because so much of the grade is based on class participation and recitation. Unfortunately, you need this course so that you can get into German II next term. As nearly as you can figure, your grade is about a B-. You are writing to your teacher.
c. You've just returned home from an exciting week as a guest at a close friend's cabin in the mountains. Your friend was not there. You caught plenty of fish. You explored some of the local attractions. You met a few of your friend's neighbors. You put a hole in the bottom of your friend's canoe. You had the hole fixed. It looks pretty good but not quite perfect. You were thrown out of the canoe when it hit some rocks in a fast part of the river. You were bruised but not seriously injured. You are writing to your friend.
3.3 Write a letter responding to a situation from List II in the previous activity. Use your imagination to fill in the details. When you've finished, share and compare your letter with those your partner has done on the same topic. Discuss the similarities and differences in your responses. What do these similarities and differences reveal about your perceptions of the situation? What do they reveal about you as writers?