Style is a Writer’s Fingerprint

When I researched the Style Guide, I was surprised by the way selections of writing clustered according to genre. The other thing that staggered me was how volume after volume stacked on top of other volumes. I have absolutely no doubt that if we kept inputting data we would build on the mass of data clustering on top of itself.

So does this mean that writers are not unique individuals after all and all that time spent crafting a sentence is simply repeating a collection of words written in the same way by someone else?

The answer to that is: ‘not at all.’

What no writer can replicate is voice or style. Writing is about how authoritatively a writer stamps the writing with his or her voice.  That is the voice readers respond to as their eyes glide over the page.

This is what the Style Guide is measuring when it gives a writer feedback. It reports on a writer’s voice and tone.

I suspect there is truth to the claim that there are no new topics in the world.

For some, this may be a disturbing thought. But it is not important because what really matters is how writers treat the topics. That is what gives every topic a fresh slant, a newness that makes the reader say, ‘wow, that’s a new way of looking at things.’

Style, our writing fingerprint, gives old topics a new voice. A writer may borrow from other writers but how the writer cobbles those borrowings together is what gives the writing sparkle. It is what makes old topics appear new.

By the way, I am not advocating plagiarism here. Stealing someone else’s writing and claiming it as your own is reprehensible.

Every writer has a different voice, a unique voice. This voice gives words shades of meaning. The voice of the writer is not replicated anywhere else. Writers may have similar styles to other writers but never the same style.

A reader also does something similar when he or she reads. Every reader approaches a piece of writing from his or her perspective and takes from it the meaning shaped by past experience and understanding. How the writer’s work is interpreted is shaped by environment and world view. Together the writer and reader give everything we write new meaning, new colour. That is the essence of style.

When we read a text, there will be occasions when we catch snatches of something familiar. For example, phrases like John Donne’s (1572-1636) ‘No man is an island . . .’ frequently appears in different contexts. There are many examples. The new author will take that familiar saying, surround it with his or her words and create new meaning. The familiar maxim gains new meaning as a consequence of the author’s action.

That intertextuality tells us we all carry within us knowledge we have acquired over the years and, as writers, we transfer those insights to the page. However, a writer will put his or her own spin on it, stamping upon it a style that makes it feel, sound and appear new. Even if it relies heavily on borrowed text it is still new as it is shaped according to that writer’s crafting

The voice or tone of a piece of communication is important, not just in terms of capturing the writer’s intention but also to give a reader insight, at a subconscious level, into what lies beneath, the unspoken elements of the writing. This applies to all kinds of writing, all genres and is what constitutes style.

What this tells us is that topics are defined by experience. How we write about them is governed by style.

Whenever I pause in a busy day and think about that, I am amazed and relieved at the same time. Amazed because of all the people in the world, there is no other person whose writing style is exactly like mine. Relieved because it means I can write as much as I like, broadcast wherever I want and know no one will ever produce a piece of writing like mine….that is unless they have copied it.

It does not mean that someone won’t come along with a similar idea and do a better job or vice versa. It simply means that the way I write is distinctive. Developing that distinctiveness is what every writer should focus on because that is the essence of what he or she writes and now we hve the Style Guide to assist in that process.

The Style Guide makes no judgement on content. It reports on voice and tone, the writing’s fingerprint or style.

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One thought on “Style is a Writer’s Fingerprint

  1. Pingback: On Voice | Seventeen 20

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