Guide to Literary Terms

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What is the literary definition of style?

The literary definition of style is an author’s use of language and literary devices to tell a story or produce an effect.

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Style is the way an author uses narrative techniques (such as diction, syntax, and tone) to tell a story. Style is broader than voice, and can range from very straightforward and sparse to ornate and figurative language–laden. Multiple people may write in the same style, but each person writes in his or her own voice. For example, Herman Melville and Henry James are both known for writing in a grandiose style, but their literary voices are very distinct.

  • "He looked like a man cut away from the stake, when the fire has overrunningly wasted all the limbs without consuming them, or taking away one particle from their compacted aged robustness."
  • This excerpt from Melville's Moby Dick shows his distinct writing style.
  • “It argued a special genius; he was clearly a case of that. The spark of fire, the point of light, sat somewhere in his inward vagueness as a lamp before a shrine twinkles in the dark perspective of a church; and while youth and early middle-age, while the stiff American breeze of example and opportunity were blowing upon it hard, had made the chamber of his brain a strange workshop of fortune. This establishment, mysterious and almost anonymous, the windows of which, at hours of highest pressure, never seemed, for starers and wonderers, perceptibly to glow, must in fact have been during certain years the scene of an unprecedented, a miraculous white-heat, the receipt for producing which it was practically felt that the master of the forge could not have communicated even with the best intentions.”
  • This passage from James's The Golden Bowl demonstrates a different type of literary style.

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