The different prose styles can be as varied as the personalities and aims of individual writers. Often the subject of the prose can dictate the style in which it is written. Basic prose style may be simply a matter of expressing thoughts as clearly as possible given the subject matter. Following that, the prose style depends on the writer.
The Elements of Style, written by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White, has been used for many years by writers and students of writing. It sets out rules of English grammar, punctuation, and proper word usage. It ends with some comments about prose styles, which admonish young writers to cultivate their own. Otherwise, “you are dead as a writer.”
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American novelist Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. has been characterized as a playful and distinctive stylist. One of his stylistic principles is that a writer should sound like himself. He also noted that possibly one of the most important aspects of style is subject matter. It should be something the writer cares about.
Serious people tend to write about serious things. Their prose styles will conform to their material. French writer Albert Camus’ The Plague uses disease as an allegory for the dangers of prejudice and hatred. His prose style conforms to this subject matter. The style of a satirist or humorist will be completely different.
The colloquial prose style of American writer Mark Twain is noted for its simplicity, directness, and grace. Any writing style can be lucid and direct regardless of the subject matter. French philosopher Blaise Pascal and American Philosopher William James were both known for their ability to express complex ideas in clear and precise language. Clarity is a style element of universal application
Accomplished and respected writers have varying opinions about what “style” really is. For some it is a point of view. If there in no conviction about the subject matter, there is no style. For others, style is craftsmanship, the way things are said; it is a matter of the proper placement of the “right” word.
Many writers think that prose styles really amount to the clear stamp of the writer on the material. In a sense, the writer is the style. The style becomes part of the substance of the writing. As English philosopher Alfred North Whitehead put it, “Style, in its finest sense, is the last acquirement of an educated mind; it is also the most useful. It permeates the whole being.”