Style: Where Structure Creates Meaning

A popular method of creating style that I have witnessed in literature and English classes is using textual structure to create meaning that is relevant to the work. I know someone already mentioned Hemingway, but one style he popularized was the iceberg concept. The iceberg concept is the method of using minimal dialogue to suggest deeper meaning. The top of the iceberg is the text, the meaning is the submerged portion. It is the writer’s responsibility to infer that meaning from the structure of the text.

Another example of this would be with novel Catch-22, by Joseph Heller. Catch-22 was a famous postmodernist novel that discussed ambiguity in society and confusion and rebellion toward authority figures during wartime. The language structure is confusing and contradicting and it serves to enhance the themes of uncertainty in society toward institutions.

As writers we can use the structure of words and sentences to tap into greater meanings and themes. Whether you want to do it through minimalism like Hemingway, or contradiction like Heller, you can adjust your structure to your story’s needs and purposes to craft a personal style.

Enhancing Style with Rhetorical Devices

The term rhetoric carries many connotations. In politics, the term is often used in derogatory way during debates toward one’s opponents. In high school, I was introduced to the concept of rhetoric as it applied to rhetorical devices. I was taught to view rhetorical devices as writing tools more than anything else. Rhetorical devices enable writers and speakers to play with language and to enhance personal style. Rhetorical devices can be used in a wide variety of industries, they are not limited to academia or political communication.

The Merriam and Webster Dictionary define rhetoric as:

:  the art of speaking or writing effectively: as

 a :  the study of principles and rules of composition formulated by critics of ancient times
 b :  the study of writing or speaking as a means of communication or persuasion
a :  skill in the effective use of speech b :  a type or mode of language or speech; also :  insincere or grandiloquent language
Knowing and utilizing rhetorical devices is a useful practice to emulate if you are ever in an industry that involves persuasion, advertising or storytelling.  It is important to know how to use rhetoric in the right settings. Rhetorical devices can be used incorrectly or ineffectively if applied to the wrong audience or at the wrong time. Furthermore it’s helpful to know when rhetoric is being used on you. Regardless of the motivations behind using rhetoric, it has the ability to strengthen your message and style as a writer. The rest is up to you.


Some would say writing is a solitary activity and in many ways it is. Writing begins in one individual’s mind and is then analyzed in another mind; this process doesn’t necessarily involve extensive external human interactions. Reading and writing effectively can often require reflective and introspective thought. However, an old proverb says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” I believe that this mentality definitely applies to writing.

As a writer, I personally struggle with proofreading. My thinking tends to focus on meanings and ideas versus structure and details. For this reason, sometimes when I go over my work, I still miss my mistakes. This past semester, several of my classes have involved extensive peer reviews, and that has helped me tremendously. I find reading and writing in a community, challenges my writing and my worldview as an individual.

I found a blogger online named Pam Marin-Kingsley. I’ve mixed her insights with some of my own.There are several advantages to writing in groups and here’s a brief list:

1. There will always be someone you can learn from and someone you can teach.

2. Depending on the group, you can find interesting arguments about controversial subject matter.

3. You can simultaneously get criticism and rapport and both can improve you as a writer.

4. You can find a community of people with like-minded interests.

5. You have the opportunity to be pretentious, drink tea and eat crumpets with other pretentious people. This is mostly a joke.

And my favorite reason:

6. Others see what I cannot.

Writing in a group has helped me learn when to listen to my own instincts and when to listen to the advice of others, and this is valuable ability in every area of life. I plan to continue writing in communities throughout my career.

Four Basic Kinds of Style

The concept of style for writers can have many different definitions. In this instance, I define style as the blend of syntax, diction, and pacing that writers choose to use in their work. Style can encompass many different ideas when it comes to writing. I found a great article discussing different types of style written by a writer named Syed Hunbbel Meer. Meer describes four kinds of style.

Expository: writing that is objective and subject-oriented and ideally devoid of personal biases. Traditionally, it’s used to explain processes, it frequently employs facts or figures, and it’s written in a logical sequential style.

Narrative: writing that is storytelling, event/plot-oriented, each portion is viewed as part of a greater whole or story. The author can involve personal influences at their own discretion. Narrative styles are used in fiction and non-fiction as well.

Persuasive: writing that encourages either accepting an opinion or partaking in an action. It is audience oriented and it typically involves emotional or ethical appeals. Like Expository style, it can utilize logical reasoning, however it is paired with bias and motivational intent and is often subjective.

Descriptive: writing is that involves a great deal of detail. It is sensory-oriented and it enables writers to draw attention to particular events, people or places. It can be poetic or emotionally evocative.

These categories are some of the most broad and topical. There are many more subcategories. However, the majority of writing that we see falls into one of these styles or is a combination of them.

One Author’s Personal Experience With Self-Publishing

Tod Langley is the author of several successful fantasy novels. On Langley’s personal website he described his personal experiences with self-publishing.

Langley found that self-publishing came with a degree of freedom that he would not have had otherwise. Langley was able to determine the deadlines of his writing as well as length and style requirement. The few external deadlines that Langley did have, he found he was able to meet them with greater ease because he had a good editor and consultant.

One of the major steps in self-publishing for Langley was submitting his manuscript to the right publisher. Langley writes that, “I submitted the manuscript to the publisher that best matched my sales objectives. Once we came to a conclusion on the publishing package cost, they offered me additional services including market analysis, editorial analysis, copy editing, proofreading, and advance cover design options. This initial analysis period took ten days.”

Langley encourages new writers to use a copy editor. Langley writes that, “Even if I had proofread my book several times (which I did) I can’t imagine it coming back as polished if I had skipped this part. This part of the process took the editor less than three weeks.”

During that portion of the editing process, Langley worked with his publisher to design a book cover. When the copy edit was finished, Langley proofread the final draft version of the book, a process that took approximately a week. Finally, Langley signed an agreement and the official manuscript was delivered to the printer. Within three weeks, the book was ready for sale. Langley writes that, “In all, the time it took for the manuscript to go from submission to print and availability at online bookstores was under four months!” Langley’s story shows that when a writer equipping yourself with the right external tools and support can make the publishing process infinitely easier.

Elizabeth O. Dulemba’s Publishing Experiences in Children’s Literature

Elizabeth O. Dulemba is children’s author, book illustrator and teacher. She has written over twenty children’s books. On her website, Dulemba discussed some of the challenges of publishing in the children’s literature industry and her personal experience.

Dulemba claims that there are one or two challenges are more characteristic of the children’s publishing industry various other writing industries.

For one, authors are expected to produce effective stories with very minimal and simplistic text, which can be challenging. Most children’s stories are no longer than 1,000 words. Also, Dulemba believes that sometimes children book authors can form strong emotional nostalgic attachments to their work, which in turn makes rejection harder.

Dulemba writes that, “…it took me three years to land my first contract as illustrator. That’s considered very fast. It took me seven years to sell my first picture book manuscript as author/illustrator Again, faster than average. And it took me ten years to sell my first children’s novel. That is actually the average. But I have friends who are still trying to get published after ten years or more of trying.”

Despite time restraints and competitive challenges in this industry, Dulemba offers some encouraging advice. Dulemba writes that, “ if you are truly determined, there are some things you can do to increase your chances in the very competitive world of children’s books…Learn as much as you can about the business side of children’s books.

Dulemba encourages authors to know how the manuscripts should be formatted and to target your submission to the best of your ability.      Dulemba advices writers to “Learn the rules so you can jump the hurdles. Educate yourself. The more you know about the inner workings of this business, the better chance you’ll have.”

Neil Gaiman: Maintaining Discipline In Your Writing

Neil Gaiman is known as one of the most creative writers of modern culture. However like many other authors, Gaiman experiences creative hurtles and writer’s block. For Gaiman, breaking through these challenges and establishing a stable writing process is contingent on determination.

In an interview with Nerdist Podcast, Gaiman discussed how he breaks through writer’s block.

“For me, it’s always been a process of trying to convince myself that what I’m doing in a first draft isn’t important. One way you get through the wall is by convincing yourself that it doesn’t matter. No one is ever going to see your first draft. Nobody cares about your first draft. And that’s the thing that you may be agonizing over, but honestly, whatever you’re doing can be fixed. …For now, just get the words out. Get the story down however you can get it down, then fix it.”

Gaiman encourages writers to write when they don’t feel inspiration and to push through when it comes to writing scenes that don’t inspire them. Gaiman encourages writers to utilize their creativity and passion for writing, but to have the discipline to finish whatever it is they’re working on.

“You have to finish things,” Gaiman says. “You learn by finishing things.”

Writing is often viewed as an elusive, whimsical talent, but it is really the act of committing to an idea and pursuing it with consistency.

As Gaiman says, “The process of writing can be magical. … Mostly it’s a process of putting one word after another.”

“You go where the book leads you” Stephen King’s Writing Process

Across the literary world, there are few names more famous than Stephen King’s. King is known for his erratic imaginative stories. However, King has a fairly stable writing routine. The interesting thing about King as a writer is that he believes in allowing the story to go in whatever direction it pleases, however he adheres to a stringent working environment.

The following excerpt is from King’s memoir titled On Writing.

“There are certain things I do if I sit down to write,” King writes. “I have a glass of water or a cup of tea. There’s a certain time I sit down, from 8:00 to 8:30, somewhere within that half hour every morning,” he explained.

King takes his vitamins, sits in the same chair, and keeps his papers arranged in all the same places. According to King, the ultimate purpose in establishing such a consistent environment is to train his mind. King writes that, “…doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon.”

King strives to write 10 pages every day, even on holidays. He encourages writers to be fearless in their writing but to also avoid carelessness.

As King writes, “You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair–the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart… but you must not come lightly to the blank page.”

Finding Inspiration in Challenges: Rick Riordan

When people think of the children’s author Rick Riordan, one particular name often comes to mind: Percy Jackson. Percy Jackson is he beloved hero of several of Riordan’s books. Percy is known for his loyalty, his courage, and his snarky sense of humor. What readers don’t always know about Percy Jackson, is that his challenges as a young kid with ADHD and dyslexia were inspired by Rick Riordan’s son.

Haley Riordan was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia at a young age. For Haley reading was challenging and he refused to do it for a period of time. However, Haley enjoyed Greek mythology a great deal, which was a subject that Riordan taught in middle school. To encourage his son, Riordan began telling him bedtime stories about a hero named Percy Jackson who had ADHD and dyslexia and who was the son of a Greek god. Over time the stories grew longer. Soon it wasn’t just Riordan encouraging his son to read. It also became Haley encouraging his father to write.

Riordan went on to publish his Percy Jackon and the Olympian series. Since then, Riordan has consistently received thanks from fans and parents alike who relate to Percy’s learning challenges and can now see their learning differences as a gift and not a weakness.

One Riordan’s inspirations is to encourage children to read, not just from the perspective or a writer, but also as a reader. It serves to remember that all obstacles only make for better stories in the long run.

A Story Every Month: Neal Shusterman

One of my favorite young adult authors is a man named Neal Shusterman. Shusterman is one of those authors who has been around for a long time and written successful novels without being in the public eye. He has written for Disney Channel movies, as well as various episodes for Goosebumps and Animorphs. He has written over twenty children and young adult novels, including the largely successful Unwind Series.

A large theme in Shusterman’s involves is moral complexity as it pertains to sociological issues. Shusterman’s books are interesting because they observe the psychological impact of events on major and minor characters in his stories, which in turn creates more flawed and accessible characters. I think Shusterman’s educational background in psychology and theater played a substantial role in his ability to craft such psychologically intricate characters.

However, Shusterman was also inspired at a young age by a teacher. Founder of Paperback Swap, Richard Pickering wrote that “Shusterman’s inspiration for writing first came in ninth grade, when his English teacher, seeing a spark of creativity, challenged him to write a story a month.” The simple activity of writing a story every month, challenged and developed Shusterman as a writer, even though he was still at a relatively young age.