Expertise is a weird concept. It can’t really be quantified, but it’s used to qualify pretty every facet of life, at least in terms of a person’s performance in a particular role, or with a particular skill.
When I was unemployed, I gave a lot of thought to my own expertise, mostly related to my professional career, but also my writing career. It might be difficult to identify your own expertise in anything. That kind of label is likely bestowed upon you by others. Anyone can call themselves an expert in something, but when someone else calls you an expert — that’s a good sign you’re headed in the right direction.
Expert storytellers, expert editors, expert linguists or “wordsmiths”. These are the types of qualifiers used to describe respected authors. It may seem strange to refer to yourself as such — I definitely do not feel like I’ve earned any of these — but you should at least be an expert in your own writing.
Know Your Writing Style
Once you’ve written more than one story, with different characters, different settings, maybe in a different world, you start to notice your own writing quirks.
If you’re writing your first story, it may be hard to identify your writing style. You’re just trying to get words onto paper and figure out how to build a narrative. And that’s okay.
But I think here are still some ways you can reflect on your writing and pick out your style — and enhance it. Think about the following patterns in your writing style.
- How do you describe characters?
- How do you describe settings?
- Is your dialogue short and direct, or long and flowery?
- Do your characters use a lot of mannerisms or facial expressions when they talk?
- Are your scenes broken up by chunks of more expository or narrative writing?
- Are your chapters or sections a consistent length, or does each one vary by more than a few pages?
Become the Expert in Your Style
There are no right or wrong answers to any of the above questions, but thinking about as you write can help you pick out your tendencies.
For instance, I tend to start character descriptions at the eyes, at least when the characters are standing near each other. I like reading people’s eyes when I talk to them, trying to understand their mood or their mindset, and I’ve projected that interest into a lot of my characters.
I also tend to use two ways of describing setting: I either use the POV character’s senses to “see” their immediate surroundings, or I take a broader view, almost looking down on the character from above to provide more of an atmospheric description.
Once you understand your tendencies, you can start to vary them so your writing doesn’t become stale or predictable. This can also just make your writing more interesting to you. After all, there are only so many ways to describe a forest.
I like to describe my characters’ facial expressions and mannerisms as they speak to liven up the dialogue. However, I’ve found that short, direct dialogue with little description can be used to pick up the pace of the story.
Understanding that initial tendency and trying to change it up depending on the situation has helped me create urgency in scenes that require it, or slow down and lean on more detailed conversations that really enliven the characters.
During your revision or editing sessions, try to pay a bit of attention to these types of questions and understand your own habits as a writer. You may decide to alternate your style depending on the scene, the character, or the story. If you’re happy with what you find and want to reinforce a certain pattern, then that’s great, too.
As long as you’re becoming an expertise in your writing style, it will feel natural to your readers.