Writing Style: Sentence Fluency, Word Choice, and Punctuation
Unfortunately, writing isn’t all about plotlines and characters. Yes, these are the things you want your reader to be engrossed in, but that means you have to make sure they aren’t focused on your writing style. This means the reader doesn’t have to stop and think about how you are conveying the story.
Here are some aspects of writing style you should be conscious of:
This comes down to variety. Varying your sentence structure and length ensures a smooth reading experience. Remember, this doesn’t mean you should have long sentences that make the reader forget the subject by the end. Can you use sentence fragments? Sure. Especially in young adult fiction, short and abrupt sentences can be used (sparingly) to draw attention to specific words.
What about structure? This includes starting sentences with different words, using a nice mix of simple and compound sentences, and switching between coordinating and subordinating conjunctions. Still, try to avoid sentence structures that can confuse the reader, such as passive voice. This is when the verb was done to the object by the subject (instead of the subject doing the verb to the object). Passive voice can be helpful in certain scenarios, but see if using active voice will improve the fluidity of the sentence and paragraph.
Another way to improve the reader’s experience is to save the most important information for the end of the sentence. Whether this is a plot twist or a joke, this gives the reader a moment to take it in before moving on to the next word.
Be careful when using thesauruses. It can be tempting to switch out all the saids, nices, and manys, you don’t want your reader stopping to figure out what insinuates means. Think about whether the reader needs to know how someone said something or the specific way a person feels. If you use a common word, will the reader still understand the sentence the same way?
You should also use synonyms if you find yourself using the same word enough times in a sentence, page, or book to alert the reader. However, you may choose to overuse a word on purpose if it helps develop the story.
Punctuation can be used to show the way a character speaks or thinks. Ellipses (...) show hesitance, dashes (—) imply importance, semicolons (;) indicate a pause, exclamation points (!) reveal excitement, and more. Avoid using any form of punctuation too much, except periods and commas. You need those. You want to be consistent with your punctuation. If you use Oxford commas (the comma that comes before the last item in a list), make sure you use them in all lists in your work. If a book that belongs to James is James’s book, make sure a pencil that belongs to Charles is Charles’s pencil. In the same way, if you choose to just use an apostrophe after a name that ends with s, maintain that throughout your novel. Basically, there are multiple correct ways to punctuate some sentences, but stay consistent.
The most common type of formatting we see in fiction novels is italics. Important words, dreams, or thoughts can be italicized. You can also choose to be more creative with formatting and include bolded words or lines written in all capital letters. Maybe you want to include a letter written in a handwriting font. Remember, any type of formatting alerts the reader to something important, but only if used sparingly. In addition, long passages written in italics or cursive fonts can be difficult to read and should be avoided.
When writing your first draft, write naturally. There is no need to focus on writing style until you begin editing. When rereading your work, ask yourself what slows down your reading. What can you do to fix it?
What makes your writing style unique? Let me know in the comments!