Style Improves When You Read for Style

Style is an allusive key to writing success. Ultimately, style emerges when the writer finds his or her voice. But how do we as writers find our voice and establish our style?

Chances are you have heard this old nugget of advice,  “If you want to write, read everything all the time.“ I agree.  And today I’d like to add a little something to that mantra: If you want to learn about writing styles, read one of your favorite authors writing in various genres.

Many authors write in one style and much can be learned from reading a wide range of those artists. You will lean how different writers utilize the point-of-view granted them from their geographical location, gender, age, economic background, upbringing, spirituality, policital views, and academic experiences, among other elements, to carve out a place for themselves in publishing. And then there are writers who seem to easily write in two or three styles. Those authors offers another way to see what in their style remains constant and what varies from genre to genre.

Joe or Lansdale is one of those writers.

A close read of his works show a Southern voice that can make subtle shifts in cadence, word choice, descriptive details, and plot points to succeed in different genres, in this case, crime, Western weird horror comics, and dark drama (though he he has tackled many other styles).

For example, in his renowned Hap and Leonard series, Lansdale uses wry dialogue to underscore both the titular character’s deep friendship as well as establish the tone of the series. The cadence and phrasing establishes both place and personality of each character, and it is consistently entertaining and educational  to see how Hap and Leonard’s communication is in sync with their often harrowing situation.

Lansdale does an equally superb job in the comic genre, which is much more constrictive. One example is Jonah Hex: Two-Gun Mojo. The author squeezes humor and characterization out of significantly more concise dialogue. The badly scarred Hex shows a wide-ranging sarcastic wit each time someone asks him what happened to his face. Lansdale also utilizes the gun slimger’s much more rural accent to engage in banter with other Southern survivors of the Civil War, coming close to that Hap and Leonard sound, though military references and word choice makes it clear that Hex is friends with no one.

Perhaps my favorite piece of Lansdale’s is Edge of Dark Water, which can fall back on neither comic action visuals nor buddy banter to drive the storytelling. Instead, Lansdale’s narrative prowess carries the novel -and us- ever deeper into the dark suspense. Without series characters, we get involved in the characters’ lives based on Lansdale’s precise characterization, moody descriptors, and tense pacing.

Of course, their are other Lansdale stories that take us to in completely different directions, like Bubba Ho-Tep, which marries pop culture icons Elvis and Kennedy to Southern gothic and Egyptian mysticism … in a retirement home.

I could go on, but the point is made. This can be done with so many authors that you can easily try this with one of your own favorites. Which author do you find reflects a style you connect with? Where do you see her/his style remain constant and where does it change a bit according to genre? Let me know in the comments section below.

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