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Developing Your Style: Part I

Creative Writing Lecturer Derek Neale encourages you to encounter a range of genres when developing your style. Packed with ideas for learning from other styles of writing, plus drama and screenplays, Derek also offers you creative exercises and checklists which he provides for his own students.

As Derek says, “Rewriting, revising and re-imagining your work are the lifeblood of the creative process.”

His articles will provide you with new approaches to do just that.

Developing Your Style


Making a scene

 Finding a voice

Splicing the strands

About Derek: Derek Neale is a fiction writer and dramatist, and is editor and co-author of A Creative Writing Handbook: developing dramatic technique, individual style and voice (Bloomsbury, 2009). He is Lecturer in Creative Writing at The OU. Some of his conversations with novelists, playwrights and screenwriters are available at OU podcasts.

Part I: Developing your style

All writing benefits from the author’s decision to pause at vital moments and to follow the hunch that something could be improved, however slightly.

When you wait, put the story or poem away in a drawer, and leave it alone for five days rather than five minutes, this is not procrastination or avoidance. The habitual, assiduous rearranging of words without promise of immediate reward appears in most accounts of how writers work. Yet such drafting and redrafting is not done in a vacuum.

Each consideration is an amalgam of a very personal inquiry – what do I want to say? – and an awareness of technique – how do I want to say it?

Writing technique

A common observation among writers goes like this: without craft, art is too private; without art, craft is just hackwork. Art comes from the personal, from the force of a compelling idea. Yet it is nothing without the scaffolding of technique, and this is arrived at slowly through trial and error.

Rewriting, revising and re-imagining your work form the lifeblood of the creative process. By editing and revisiting the original conception you are able to transform an idea, and at the same time improve and develop your writing style. This is true for all writers, experienced or not, and it’s true for each new project – you will bring something that you already know to the endeavour, but it will demand a new ability and focus from you.

We can, and often will, discover different ways of writing in what we read and watch, from observing how other stories are told. A regular consumption of novels, short stories, poems, biographies, memoirs, films and plays will provide a profusion of ideas about marrying form and content, craft and idea. And, I believe, encountering a range of genres is the key.

Comparing genres

Looking at a novel and a screenplay, side by side, and the ways in which these very different forms construct their stories, can boost your writing. Much can be gleaned from film’s visual storytelling, and the poetic way in which it splices narrative strands together.

Imagining how a story might work on stage can inform the dramatic action of your novel. Looking to see how the dialogue and subtext might develop and reveal a character can help you to reveal the characters in your narratives. Listening to the rhythms and cadences of speech and action in a radio play can help you to create contrast and conflict in the voices of your short stories, novels and poems.

Writers can also learn much from seeing their work in adaptation. Zadie Smith writing in the New York Times about the television adaptation of White Teeth says – ‘At least one of the changes is inspired … A cut has been made; a motivation inserted, and artistic clarity is the result. The moment I saw it, I gasped – this section of the novel would have been so improved had I thought of the same strategy.’

Some writers go on to the next step and script adaptations of their stories themselves. Investigating how scripts work can enrich your storytelling. Many claim that they have found new aspects to their characters, new motivations and fears, gained new views about a story’s action – from trying to script a stage or film version of their story.

And, of course, adaptations can lead to such liberal interpretations of the original idea that in effect the drama becomes a completely new story – one which just might sell in its own right.

If you found this article useful, you might like to try:

Developing Your Style Part II

Developing Your Style Part III

Developing Your Style Part IV