Wednesday, March 16, 2011

On Writing Styles

One of the more entertaining (read: crazy-making) part of my life is that I'm exposed to several different writing styles each and every day. Now, I don't mean the writing of different people in terms of "style" (yes I'm exposed to a variety of those as well) but I'm more interested in the basic stylistic guidelines that exist within a set aspect of the writing world.

Writing Style the First: Press Releases

As some, or maybe all of you know, I work for a press-release distribution company. Without going into too much detail about my job there -- which a) isn't germane to this topic and b) would probably bore you anyway -- my day is generally spent reading through anywhere from 10 to 15 press releases composed by various clients that have contracted with my company to distribute their news.

If you've ever written/read a press release then you know something about how the vast majority are composed. They usually start with a sentence that goes something like this: "ABC Company (NYSE:ABC) announced today that .... (fill in the blank here)." Whether it's a statement of their quarterly earnings, saying they hired a new person, or announcing a new contract, product, service, etc, I can almost guarantee you that every single press release I see starts with some variation on that sentence. Then the rest of it deals with expanding on that first sentence, and the release will then end with a Boiler Plate describing the company and (mostly) a legal statement under one of the Securities acts that says the news in the release is only true as of the date of the release.

The order changes depending on the company, but most releases will have that same organization. Seeing all these has made me very, very familiar with the way to compose and edit a press release for maximum "oomph" if you will.

Writing Style the Second: Blog Posts

The writing style of blog posts is very conversational -- sort of like I'm telling you this over a beer at the local bar or sitting in a very informal class. Personally I like to think I'd be one of those professors who actually takes their students outside on a nice day. Then again, the reality is more along the lines of me being the one that students say "don't take his class, he doesn't give out high grades easily." I always liked the second kind of professor more than the first (what can I say? I likes me a challenge).

The long and short of it is that people who read blog posts almost expect them to be very informal. Because having that conversation, even if one-sided, with the writer is what makes blogs like the Archives awesome.

Writing Style the Third: Feature Articles

My primary part-time job is as a Hyperlocal Reporter for six websites that are owned by Hello Metro. By the way, the phrase "Hyperlocal" means I focus my attention on happenings within and immediately around those cities. I'm not writing stories about Baghdad, or Kabul, or the earthquake in Japan; rather what I am doing is writing travel articles about places like the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut or the Adirondack Museum outside Albany, NY.

This style of writing is looser than a straight news article, and somewhat conversational similar to a blog post. However the difference here is that I divorce myself from the text by not writing in the first person. This isn't the same method with all feature articles, mind you, as some prefer the writer to have a presence inside the text of the piece. But the ones I write for Hello Metro don't read as "experiential" feature pieces -- that's my term for the ones where the writer is experiencing what he or she is writing about. These are informational feature articles that are meant to be used as introductions to the location they're profiling.

Writing Style the Fourth: Fiction

In among all of this other writing I'm exposed to, I also spend time crafting fictional worlds for the reader to enjoy playing around in. Y'all have probably seen my Dark Days in Bright City story posted over at Free the Princess, and I know for a fact that I've thrown excerpts of CALLARION AT NIGHT up at that blog before. My latest piece, by the way, is called PURITY DISTILLED, a Steampunk horror/adventure set around the holidays (Winter Festival in the world of the story). I'm hoping to make it into a novella in time for the open call for holiday- or winter-themed Steampunk pieces from Carina Press by their June 15 deadline.

This style is more conversational than the Feature Articles, less structured than the Press Releases, and also less conversational than the Blog Posts. The reasons are as follows: 1) Novelists write the way people talk, 2) A good story is a good story no matter the organization (except for a few things), and 3) Many novels/short stories are written in 3rd person POV, which would amount to me typing "Matthew thinks this" in a blog post.

Now here comes the interesting part: I'm exposed to each of these writing styles every week. Besides scrambling my brains up like a great big ... thing that scrambles other things ... being exposed to all of these styles helps me become a better writer because it enhances the flexibility of verbiage that I now possess. I can write a press release one minute, compose a blog post the next, bang out a feature piece later in the day, and then also write and/or edit fiction. So it's a net benefit.

... I think.

How many writing styles are you exposed to in your daily life?

1 comment:

Davin Malasarn said...

Matthew, as I was reading through this, I was thinking how great it is that you are getting to experience all these different types of writing. I'm glad you feel like you're learning from it. Aside from my fiction, I'm exposed to a lot of technical writing. Even though it messes me up sometimes, I've found it to be far more helpful than harmful.