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What Are the Different Prose Styles?

By Pablo Garcia
Updated May 23, 2024
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The different prose styles can be as varied as the personalities and aims of individual writers. Often the subject of the prose can dictate the style in which it is written. Basic prose style may be simply a matter of expressing thoughts as clearly as possible given the subject matter. Following that, the prose style depends on the writer.

The Elements of Style, written by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White, has been used for many years by writers and students of writing. It sets out rules of English grammar, punctuation, and proper word usage. It ends with some comments about prose styles, which admonish young writers to cultivate their own. Otherwise, “you are dead as a writer.”

American novelist Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. has been characterized as a playful and distinctive stylist. One of his stylistic principles is that a writer should sound like himself. He also noted that possibly one of the most important aspects of style is subject matter. It should be something the writer cares about.

Serious people tend to write about serious things. Their prose styles will conform to their material. French writer Albert Camus’ The Plague uses disease as an allegory for the dangers of prejudice and hatred. His prose style conforms to this subject matter. The style of a satirist or humorist will be completely different.

The colloquial prose style of American writer Mark Twain is noted for its simplicity, directness, and grace. Any writing style can be lucid and direct regardless of the subject matter. French philosopher Blaise Pascal and American Philosopher William James were both known for their ability to express complex ideas in clear and precise language. Clarity is a style element of universal application

Accomplished and respected writers have varying opinions about what “style” really is. For some it is a point of view. If there in no conviction about the subject matter, there is no style. For others, style is craftsmanship, the way things are said; it is a matter of the proper placement of the “right” word.

Many writers think that prose styles really amount to the clear stamp of the writer on the material. In a sense, the writer is the style. The style becomes part of the substance of the writing. As English philosopher Alfred North Whitehead put it, “Style, in its finest sense, is the last acquirement of an educated mind; it is also the most useful. It permeates the whole being.”

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Discussion Comments

By croydon — On Mar 13, 2012

@Mor - Imitation shouldn't be completely discarded as a learning device though. I mean, it's probably not the best thing to be doing once you are pursuing a publishing contract, but when searching for your own prose style, writing in the style of others can help, I think.

Pastiches are actually a time honored method of teaching writing to students.

As long as they recognize that they need to develop their own way of looking at the world, and of course, don't devolve into plagiarism there's no harm in it.

By Mor — On Mar 13, 2012

@umbra21 - I don't agree that you need to write write write in order to develop a style. I do think that it helps, for sure, but I know of quite a few people who could write fairly well on their first attempt.

They were all voracious readers though, which can make a difference.

What I think can be trouble is when a writer doesn't read enough, particularly in the genre which they want to pursue. You find this sometimes with books that aren't very popular with the critics.

The writer thinks they've had a brilliant idea that's going to revolutionize the genre, and in reality it's the same old idea that's been kicking around in that genre for ages, just they've never seen it.

The style of people like that is often derivative of a particular author they idolize and have read above all others, as they've never grown beyond copying.

By umbra21 — On Mar 13, 2012

Style is one of those qualities of prose that it's really impossible to develop without going through the process of writing a lot of words.

I know too many beginning writers who have wonderful ideas and even have an occasional brilliant sentence. But they have a very inconsistent style which wavers depending on what they are writing.

Generally only the bits they find the most interesting come across as brilliant and a lot of their prose writing has very little style to it at all.

Practice is the only thing that can solve this. Practice and a lot of reading of a wide variety of styles. If you start reading critically, you'll soon be able to see your own work in the same way. And you'll start to weed out the bits of your own work which don't sit right with you when you read them in others' work.

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