Skip to main content

What Is Style in English Literature?

  • Author:
  • Updated date:
Having your a certain writing style in your own literature isn't too different from having your own personal style in fashion.

Having your a certain writing style in your own literature isn't too different from having your own personal style in fashion.

What Is Literary Style?

Style in English Literature is how a work is presented through the author’s voice. It is just as essential to a piece of work as the plot, setting, theme, and characters. When you read a piece written by one author and then another piece by a different author, the way you can tell that they were composed by two separate individuals is how they wrote whatever it is you just read. Literary style is your voice put on paper, and it is the essence of how you can stick out amidst a crowd of blandness or reach beyond the ink and connect with your audience.

According to Richard Nordquist, style is “narrowly interpreted as those figures that ornament discourse; broadly, as representing a manifestation of the person speaking or writing. All figures of speech fall within the domain of style.” In other words, it is such a broad term that it can be defined by the minute details of one’s writing or the very large picture of themselves they present in their writing. One could look at the author's word choice, for example, or one could investigate the entire telling of the story as a way to look at the style of the piece of work.

Quotes on Style in Literature

"Who cares what a man’s style is, so it is intelligible, as intelligible as his thought. Literally and really, the style is no more than the stylus, the pen he writes with; and it is not worth scraping and polishing, and gilding, unless it will write his thoughts the better for it. It is something for use, and not to look at."

Henry David Thoreau

"Proper words in proper places, make the true definition of style."

Jonathan Swift

Why Is Style Important in English Literature?

Style may be a broad term, but it still important in writing and literature. Without it, there would be no individuality or soul beyond the text. It can take years to hone or come naturally but every writer must find their own literary style in order to be successful, especially in literature.

Think of your favorite author from any type of literature and why he/she is your favorite. All that you list is most likely because of their literary style. Perhaps they are a fantastic storyteller or the way they write just inspires you. Without their own personal style, they would be robotic and bland. Style in literature creates that separation from more scientific or literal forms of writing, bringing heart to what would otherwise be dead and much too literal and emotionless for the fiction realm.

Can a Writer's Style Change?

There are two different ways that style in literature can change, one is while the writer is sharpening their skills and one is when the writer is writing for different audiences. As one’s skills improve, their literary style becomes much more evident and improves their writing significantly. One can see an author in English literature’s style change when they read a novel by that author versus some type of discourse. Writing fiction versus writing to a more academic audience are completely different, like writing an email to a friend versus writing to your boss.

Style in Literature

"People think that I can teach them style. What stuff it all is! Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style."

Matthew Arnold

"When we see a natural style, we are astonished and delighted; for we expected to see an author, and we find a man."

Blaise Pascal

"A man's style should be like his dress. It should be as unobtrusive and should attract as little attention as possible."

C.E.M. Joad

"The essence of a sound style is that it cannot be reduced to rules--that it is a living and breathing thing with something of the devilish in it--that it fits its proprietor tightly yet ever so loosely, as his skin fits him. It is, in fact, quite as seriously an integral part of him as that skin is. . . . In brief, a style is always the outward and visible symbol of a man, and cannot be anything else."

H.L. Mencken

What Are the Elements of Style in English Literature?

Some of the basic elements of style are as follows:

  1. Sentence forms: Within the boundaries of the rules of grammar, there is still room for writers to play with word order. This helps avoid monotony and also can help indicate what era the literature is from. Writers from the Age of Enlightenment liked balanced sentences while modern writers favor a loose sentence structure.
  2. Diction: When looking at diction, it is best to examine certain features such as whether it is abstract or concrete, general or specific, literal or metaphorical, etc.
  3. Connotation:This is important when looking at style because different audiences may look at a certain word choice differently if its definition goes beyond what the old dictionary tells us. This is where writers need to be careful at times because they can evoke the wrong message to their audience and offend or terrify them, unless that is their aim of course. This is also where you would be looking at allusions or references to other works in literature or important figures.
  4. Punctuation: This isn’t always a factor in an author’s style since the rules are pretty basic and set but sometimes it can be an essential factor of their work, especially when it comes to poetry.
  5. Clichés: They can be a little bland or annoying for readers but they still help to develop the style of the author.

© 2012 Lisa


İbrahim Y. on May 19, 2020:

Is the style of an author inflenced by his/her era? If so, how? Is it possible to give some specific examples of authors whose style was influenced by his era's social or economical or other factors?

Abdur rahim ustb pak on January 13, 2014:

style arranges the diffrend ideas in a logical manner

Harish Mamgain from New Delhi , India on December 06, 2013:

Very interesting and useful material for laying a solid foundation of writing. A style is like a fashion trend ; the more vibrant you are with your style, the more you succeed in portraying it well to the audience. Lisa, every time you bring forth a real gem; it is always shining and bright.

Michelle Booth from UK on January 30, 2013:

Difficult subject well covered. I do agree that cliches can be annoying!

Angela Brummer from Lincoln, Nebraska on June 07, 2012:

Great article!

2patricias from Sussex by the Sea on May 28, 2012:

This is an interesting analysis of style. Some authors give me the impression that they are speaking directly to me, really wanted to tell me their story. That is how I feel reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Great Gatsby". I've never thought about the compoments of style - this is an interesting hub.

ScottHough on May 14, 2012:

Very useful hub for me. I wonder about my style sometimes; Yours is just wonderful to read.


Brainy Bunny from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on May 06, 2012:

Hi, Lisa. I love your photo! It really drew me in. Very clever!