June 25, 2011

Writing tips #2: To find your style

I should address the issue of “practice makes perfect” but we're going to be talking about something else entirely. After all, if you don't know what you need to practice, perfection is a far-fetched objective. Therefore, let us figure out what style you should start writing before we move on to anything else.

Short answer to this enigma: No one knows! Not even yourself.

A lot of people believe that because they read a lot of adventure, a lot of romance, tons of angst, they will obviously do their best writing these genres. And there is a solid logic to their argument, because when all's said and done they have been picking up structure, tricks, vocabulary... They should be good to go.


A book is a little bit like a lego construction box: you can come up with a lot of different things by using the same pieces. Of course, when you try to build a tower you'll use the pieces in a different way than when you're building a bunker. And yet, once you understand how each bit works and what goes best where, you can build anything, no matter what.

Okay, being an engineer might help with the lego. But I still think it works fine as a metaphor for our purposes.

For instance: perhaps you love reading crime books, and you know all there's to know about the literary devices used commonly in the genre, but you actually have a knack for romance and there's a way to apply all you have learned about cops and reverse psychology to write the most interesting love story yet.

I'll use myself as further example: I always thought I'd be an angst writer. I read a lot of the stuff, and it seemed to be all I could think about in my emo-like adolescence (laughs at the memories). It came as a surprise, but the first time I wrote something worth sharing... It was humor. Slap-stick humor of the most classic kind. From there, I moved to action and a more elegant, dark prose. And have yet to touch angst as a major topic in any of my writings.

Therefore, how can you tell where to focus your efforts?

Well, at first you won't, period. And trust me when I say that attempting to write a six-book-long behemoth of a saga is not the best way to find out. Let's not even talk about trying to drag your words along pages and pages of a writing which does not motivate you. It's like trying to force out the sentences with red-hot pincers: painful, and it wields an ugly result.

How can we find our niche, then?

Well, that's why I chose the topic of this entry... Writing challenges.

How will this help you?
  • Normally, a writing challenge is a one shot - that is to say, you should be able to finish it between 1000 and 5000 words.
  • It will give you a number of parameters, so that you'll be able to focus more on enjoying the experience of trying out something new and less on screwing that million dollar idea you had late at night.
  • It will have a time limit of sorts, so you'll actually sit down to write instead of procrastinating away thinking about writing.
  • And, most important, by the time you're done, you'll be able to judge and decide.
Was it a slow torture? Did you have to quit because you were so uncomfortable with it? Does the result live up to the challenge's expectations? Did you have fun writing it?

If you enjoyed it then, no matter how surprising the choice might seem to be, you should give the genre a try: think up a short, manageable story on your own terms and try to do the one-shot, or short story thing. Sometimes, once we're out of the given requirements (or out of a given fandom, for you fanfic writers out there), inspiration and witticism just aren't the same.

Is the end result similar to what you had in mind? What kind of feedback did you receive, if any? Because if you're the only one finding your humor amusing or your friendship stories moving, then you might need to re-think your niche.

Otherwise: congratulations! You've discovered one genre you're proficient with.

The trick now is not to give up the writing challenges. 

If you don't find one suitable, make it up yourself. Ask a friend to give you a character and a setting and a dead-end, and work away. People may change over time, so perhaps you used to suck at action scenes and now you can keep the reader glued to the words and holding their breath.

Keep rediscovering your strong points!

Experiment freely, yes, but don't attempt to tackle huge projects before knowing for sure you'll be comfortable writing them.

Write what you're good at and make it enjoyable, but keep your eyes and your mind open because there's always new genres and styles that may suit you like a glove.

And keep your fingers from becoming dusty and stiff. Write, always! Because, as I said above... practice does make perfect.


  1. I really enjoyed this post. It is so true. I have read multitudes of each genre and yet, there is no way I could ever write that way. The only thing I write is nonfiction. That is what comes out when I put pen to paper, fingers to keys. And right now, all I write are the stories on my blog (and they are humorous - they're about my life after all.) I am a new follower and would love a visit/follow back on my blog. Thanks. Look forward to reading more. Donna


  2. Ron,
    I agree on many of your points. I love mysteries/crime stories but I find them very hard to write. I over think and it turns from a labor of love to labor. I'm still hopeful that some day I'll fulfill my desire to write an interesting and suspenseful mystery. In the mean time, I'm tapping Women's Fiction, Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Regency Romance. Sci Fi and RR were both shockers to me.