We’ve come to it at last: the sixth and final aspect of what makes up a story. We’ve looked at the concept, characters, dialogue, setting, and plot/pacing. Now let’s go into styles.
Style is one of the things that makes stories about the same thing so different. How many stories can you think of that center around the telling (and retelling and re-retelling) of Cinderella? Yet each one of them is different in some way. Sure, they might have different characters or a different setting, but the thing that sets them apart the most is the style.
Style is the way a story is presented.
This varies depending on the medium of a story, whether it’s a book, TV show, radio drama, graphic novel, etc. Different media will have different tools they use to establish the style. For instance, movies and TV shows can use camera angles, color palettes, and sound to establish style. Books, of course, won’t have that. However, books use narration all the way through; and a narrator’s voice establishes style in a way that would be awkward for movies or TV shows to maintain over long periods of time. Books also allow the writer to do unique things with the way they arrange words on a page which movies, TV shows, and radio shows could never do.
There’s really two kinds of styles: a storyteller’s trademark style, as well as the style of an individual story. When people say “I like/dislike that writer’s style,” they’re commenting on the storyteller’s overall trademark style: the way they often handle style in the stories they produce. Many writers do it so long that they have certain methods they use over and over again, and this works almost like a thumbprint. Their style is so distinctive and they’ve replicated it so much that people can identify a work as theirs just by looking at the style.
Some writers purposefully use different styles (or at least change up parts of their style) depending on the story they’re creating. These individual story styles always work to establish something about just that story. Sometimes they’re even opposites of the writer’s typical “trademark style” to give in-the-know audiences a little unexpected jolt and say something about the story itself.
An individual style’s main purpose is to tell us what kind of a story it is. This is also called aesthetic(s). It gives us a “sense” about the story, whether it’s colors used or the kind of music played or the word choice of the dialogue.
I’ll be talking about both “kinds” of styles today.
Movies, TV Shows, and Other Visual Media
You hear movie-buffs talk about it all the time: a director’s style. The camera angles, the lenses, the scene-framing, the way the scenes transition–all these and more are tools directors use to tell their stories, things that can vary from one style to another. Often a director will make choices that are similar across their various movies; this results in people being able to pick out that director’s style.
Some directors will film and edit to make the style jarring, disjointed, and flashy. Some will make action scenes blurry and difficult to make out details to get the audience to feel as if they’re really in the middle of the fight. Some will opt for lots of close-up shots. Some will keep the camera far away, almost detached.
I don’t know much about film theory, so I won’t go into detail about which methods establish what kinds of styles (there are entire schools dedicated to that), but regardless of the style, the director always makes conscious choices that tell the story a certain way. The style establishes the overall aesthetic of the story as well as the atmosphere of each scene.
Obviously this means that style is incredibly important. It not only tells you what kind of a story you’re in for when the tale opens up, it also helps guide you to feel a certain way while watching each particular scene.
One very important thing that contributes to audio-based media and movies is music. Music is essential to set up an aesthetic and style of the story. Music tells us what kind of a story this will be, what we should feel during a certain scene, what the setting is like, and much more.
Music can also tell stories just by itself. The rising crescendos and sorrowful minor notes can help us imagine stories in our head of what the song might be conveying.
Other tools for an audio story’s style are voices and sound effects. Sound effects (both editing sounds and the sounds chosen and produced by a Foley artist) are huge contributions to the story’s style. For instance, a story with supernatural elements may have distorted, eerie sounds and effects. Voice actors’ performances may establish what kind of character they play, but their vocalization choices also affect the overall style of the story. This is why many audio projects have directors just for the voice actors.
Books, Magazines, and Written Media
Books and other forms of written media have both the hardest and the most simple time with style compared to any other media. They have almost no tools to work with when compared to movies. After all, a traditional book doesn’t have a soundtrack. There are very little to no pictures, and forget about moving images. For most novels, there’s nothing to establish the style except for words. Not even spoken words and tones–just written words.
This means that the writer can use the way the words look to their advantage, though. Poets do this far more than prose, but it means that in the extreme case, writers could specifically choose words based on what letters they wanted to appear the most to give their writing a certain feel, a certain style.
Writers can also use paragraph or sentence length to establish a style. One thing I often utilize in my style is short paragraphs–sometimes only single words–to build up drama and emphasize certain concepts, thoughts, or emotions. Sentence length also goes a long way in establishing a style: long, rambling sentences can indicate a writer is trying to establish something is boring or a slower pace. Short, choppy sentences make the reader feel like the action is happening at break-neck speeds.
Just like directors, novelists also rely on transitions to help establish their style. Do they cut to the next scene quickly? Do they “fade” from one image to a related one in another scene at another locale? Transitions tell you a lot about the writer as well as what kind of a story you’re reading.
Aspects of a Story
Style is the way a story is presented. It’s vital to a story. It establishes both what kind of a story you’re enjoying as well as how the story wants you to feel in any given moment. It tells where the story is taking place or whether something unusual or supernatural is happening. Style can be very subtle or very loud and pronounced.
But either way, style is just as important as any other aspect of story. Whether it’s the characters that populate the setting or the way they talk, whether it’s what hooks the audience or what keeps them watching, or whether it’s how the writer presents the story–they’re all vital aspects of a story.
The really amazing stories are those that acknowledge those aspects and master all of them.