Authors Have Style
When people say that authors have style, this almost never means fashion sense. This isn't to say authors have zero fashion sense; some slob around in sweats and ratty shirts with baseball caps, while others wear very fashionable, color-coordinated clothes with cute little matching berets. No, the type of style being referred to is their writing style.
Some authors write short sentences. They like short sentences. They talk in snippets. For them, writing is sparse, even simplistic. Aiming for the minimum is their goal. Often, they achieve it. This is like a bowl of granola: crunchy little morsels. If done right, it can also be tasty. Many readers enjoy this style.
Other authors write long, flowing, liquid lines that ooze into our consciousness with metaphor and imagery, as sinuous as serpentine, sneaking dragons and as loquacious as the lilting songs of nightingales. Of course, they have to be careful that their sentences don't run on and on until they and the reader both lose track of the point they were trying to make in all this undulating phraseology...but it is a valid style, and many readers also enjoy it.
Style isn't just about the length of sentences. It can also refer to the variety. What variety? For one, there are several ways to start a sentence, as well as several ways to connect phrases. Gerunds (-ing adverbs) inject movement, such as "Going over to the wine cabinet, he opened it and selected one of the bottles inside." Others start with nouns and articles. "She watched him twist the cork free, wondering which wine he had selected." "The dog, also curious, rose from his favorite rug and padded over behind his master, nudging him in the back of the knee."
Authors can use other adverbs, such as ones ending -ly. These can be at the start of a sentence, in the middle, or at the end. "Quickly righting the bottle just before he could pour it into the glasses on the table next to the cupboard, he grinned and patted his dog." "He grinned her way, and she smiled back at him shyly." Some of these sentences can be constructed use conjunction words such as "and", "but" and "or," while others have complete sentences (subject/noun and possibly an object) snuggled up with prepositional phrases, and so forth. (A preposition connects a noun or a short statement to the rest of the sentence, usually in a way indicating a position, either in space or time: on, to, toward, beside, under, as, while...) These can be found at the start of the sentence or at its end.
...On a side note, a good writer mixes up sentence types, whether short or long, so that the reader's mind isn't rubbed raw by constantly seeing the same thing at the start of every single sentence.
Style is more than the mechanics, however important they may be. It can also cover subject matter. Young Adult fiction has a distinct style, because the protagonists (heroes/heroines) will be younger, have or make simpler decisions, and often the sentence structure will be simpler. Horror will drip with descriptions both suspenseful and gory, whether the sentences are short or long. Westerns may have dialogue peppered with slang. Introspective-style general fiction may have almost no dialogue. Sometimes the genre will dictate what part of the style may be: Romance and Humor tend to be lighter on the suspense than Horror or Mystery, for instance.
Style can also refer to what gets written into the story. Some of these can be plot-related, while others can just be little signature things an author puts in, consciously or unconsciously. Does an author always put a dog or other pet into their stories? Is there always going to be the hero and heroine sharing a kiss by page 100, even if they broke up back on page 87? Does the protagonist have a signature attack move that smacks down the antagonist during a confrontation time and again in a single book? Or over a series? Does the author have an irrepressible sense of humor even if they're trying to tell a somber tale?
Once an author settles on a particular genre for their story ideas, how they choose to tell that story via all these various means, how it all comes together, becomes their style. At least, for that story. If they do it time and again, novel after novel, it can become a distinct sense of style. The short sentences of Hemmingway contrast vividly against the long sentences of Tolkien, even if you dismiss the fact they each wrote in vastly different genres, but the style of Piers Anthony's novels is distinctly different from Robert Asprin's, even though they both wrote popular humorous fantasies.
Sometimes, an author just hasn't found their "voice"...which is another word for style. They may experiment with this and that, varying from one book to the next, until settling on a final choice. Oddly enough, writing fanfics (only for fun and parody, never for profit) in another author's style is an excellent way for a writer to develop his or her own. This works best when they try to mimic several different styles, practicing each several times with different stories.
Gradually, the author will discover which style works best for him or her, and weave what they've learned from other styles into a style that is their own. Practicing one's writing styles in short stories not meant for publication is a good way to grow and polish their style without having to subject the readers to an attempt that isn't quite right for that writer. It is also a way, once you've established yourself as an author, to freshen up your writing by trying something new. Sometimes this backfires, but sometimes it injects new energy into your works, and new interest in your readers.
On the other hand, sometimes an author has practiced so many styles that he or she can pull out a particular style for a particular genre and a particular book. They can actually write both Young Adult romances and mature Horror stories. They can gun-sling with the best of published outlaws in a Western novel, type THE END, punctuate it with a literary bullet...and then switch gears and slide into sensual Science Fiction Erotica for their very next book. Their agent or editor may even request a specific style from the author, if they know that author can handle it.
At this point, the hard part becomes keeping that style consistent all the way through, particularly if an author has grown comfortable in their original style. The best thing to do is to consciously check and recheck for the various elements of the style you're trying to write. Don't just focus on the story; turn your attention to the structure and the mechanics. Look over your word choices: would a YA novel use "loquacious" or "wordy"? Look over your hero/ine's choices: Would they know that villains often lie, or would they automatically trust in a promise given to them, thanks to their youthful ignorance? Or were there circumstances in their past that have already led this youthful protagonist to be wary of any promises at all, whether from friend or foe?
Sometimes particular styles can be popular. These can vary in duration. In the 1930s and 1940s, short sentences in hardboiled detective novels were very popular. Sometimes styles can be short, but cyclic. From the mid-1980s to the current 2010s, there have been at least three revivals of shapechangers being especially popular in Children's and Young Adult fiction, but also periods where they were almost ignored. Shapechanger novels have been produced more or less during the entire course of the last thirty years, but at three points in time, they peaked in popularity. Sometimes one such novel becomes an open doorway for many more along those lines, and authors can piggyback themselves and others on to greater success by this exposure to larger audiences.
However, be wary of trying to write in the style that is currently popular just because it's currently popular. Remember that it can take an average of two years to go from manuscript idea to bookstore novel, and that's assuming you already have an agent and/or publisher looking for your work. By the time your novel reaches the store shelves, vampires might be completely out and angels totally in by that year. Don't write a story solely because it's a popular genre, idea, or style. Write it because you're trying to make it a good, engaging story. That way, even if shapechangers aren't the current favorite, or if people are gravitating toward longer sentences instead of shorter, people will still enjoy your book in spite of its less popular differences, and mention it to their friends.
These and more are all good things to consider, and good questions to ask. Think consciously of your writing, what pieces you choose and how you put it all together, and you will learn how to develop, maintain, and improve your own distinct style. Whether it's a floppy garden hat sort of writing style, a top hat writing style, an ear-covering winter hat, fur-trimmed pimp hat, or a propeller-topped beanie hat in style, authors have mad style, yo'.
Jean Johnson is the multiple bestselling author of books ranging from lighthearted fantasy romances to serious military science fiction, and more. Her usual style tends to be descriptive with longer sentences, but she has also been known to dabble in other styles. As far as hats go, when she actually wears one, she swaps between a leather barmah (an outback hat she purchased in Australia), a black wool beret (not purchased in France, though she'd love to go there one day), and a Mariners baseball cap (with the logo stitched in Japanese characters). Feel free to drop by her website www.JeanJohnson.net , check out her books, and even chat with her on Twitter @JeanJAuthor.