Writing Styles of Famous Authors - Craft Your Content
writing styles

Writing Styles of Famous Authors

If you’re a creative of any kind, you’ve experienced the intense desire to be special. Not just special to a partner or a child, but special to the world. Special at what you do.

Part of the reason people create is so they can leave their mark on the world; so they don’t disappear into oblivion when they die. So they are remembered.

Don’t you want to be remembered like William Shakespeare? Maya Angelou? Michael Jackson? Marilyn Monroe?

They are remembered because they were revolutionaries. They changed the game for playwriting, literature, and journalism. They created art that had never been created before.

We all have that innate goal of creating something groundbreaking. It’s just the “how” that gets us stuck.

For writers in particular, it’s the epic stories and original writing styles that set the famous apart from the forgotten. Authors like Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, Zora Neale Hurston, and Agatha Christie created their own techniques that tapped into their experiences, the time period, and what new ways they could manipulate their language.

By understanding the history of these authors, and how they developed their own unique styles of writing, you will be able to apply it to your own writing and create a writing style that’s all your own.

The Writing Styles of: The Old Guys

Ernest Hemingway

writing styles

Yes, we are starting with the man himself. Ernest Hemingway. Quite possibly one of the most well-known authors of all time. While I personally am not a huge fan of his work, Hemingway changed the game in a major way. He pioneered concise, objective prose in fiction—which had, up until then, primarily been used in journalism.

She’s just having a bad time. The initial labor is usually protracted. She’s only having a bad time. Afterward we’d say what a bad time and Catherine would say it wasn’t really so bad. But what if she should die? She can’t die. Yes, but what if she should die? She can’t, I tell you. Don’t be a fool. It’s just a bad time.

-Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

It’s no surprise that Hemingway learned this direct style of writing as a reporter for The Kansas City Star. But his preference for objective writing was strengthened after he returned from World War I. While 19th century European (read: English) writing styles had been generally revered and imitated by authors all over the world, the war put a sour taste in the mouths of many creatives.

In the 1920s, immediately after the war, a group of American authors who became “The Lost Generation” rejected the flowery, descriptive language of European literature in favor of straightforward, to the point stories. Hemingway spearheaded this movement by publishing novels and short stories using “The Iceberg Theory.” He believed the facts of the story, which appeared on the surface, hinted at the symbolism that was lying underneath—which didn’t have to be explained.

His writing style is still widely used by authors and journalists alike, and he even has an editing app named after him!

Being Like Hemingway

Every single one of the nine authors I’ll address in this article used their experiences to inform their writing styles. But this was especially true of Hemingway. His style of writing was informed by his time as a journalist and his disillusionment after the war.

It’s hard for your experiences not to inform the art you create. While we all want to be as brilliant and succinct as Hemingway, if your experiences have influenced a specific writing style, don’t deny yourself that.

Perhaps you grew up reading poetry, so you have a tendency to write descriptive, symbolic language. Write what you know and be yourself. That’s what Hemingway did.

James Joyce

writing styles

James Joyce may not be as famous as Hemingway in America, but he is Ireland’s pride and joy. His experimental writing style made him an influence in the modernist avant-garde writing movement of the early 20th century. His novels are defined by their elaborate stream-of-consciousness style of writing, which is often very hard to follow by novice readers; as it recounts every thought and action of the narrator in exquisite detail.

I took off all my things with the blinds down after my hours dressing and perfuming and combing it like iron or some kind of thick crowbar standing all the time he must have eaten oysters I think a few dozen he was in great singing voice no I never in all my life felt anyone had one the size of that to make you feel full up…

– James Joyce, Ulysses

I was once warned not to read Ulysses without an encyclopedia and a dictionary on hand. Joyce’s seminal work contains more vocabulary words than the entire Shakespeare canon. Furthermore, his final book, Finnegans Wake, is considered to be one of the most difficult works of fiction ever written in the English language.

Joyce was known to be extremely intelligent, studying Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and Dante at a very young age. He was also known to speak 17 languages, including Sanskrit, Arabic, and Greek. It is possible that his incredible knowledge of language influenced his unique vocabulary, and that his interest in philosophy and the many different styles of literature he read created an amalgamation of techniques that resulted in his stream-of-consciousness writing.

If you had that much knowledge in your head, it’d be hard to contain all your thoughts, too!

Being Like Joyce

How you were educated is also a huge deciding factor in which writing styles you will develop. If you were taught to use ornate, descriptive language, then it will be a pretty hard habit to break. If you spent most of your childhood reading Hemingway (in which case, are you okay?), then you may be more likely to write concise stories.

Your major in college—or if you went to college—is also a huge contributing factor. If you studied literature, your writing will be flowery and contain a lot of symbolism. If you studied science or business, you’ll get to the point pretty quickly.

Joyce developed his style of writing from reading copious amounts of literature and studying an insane number of languages. Nobody is saying you have to learn another language to refine your writing style, but definitely draw upon what you learned in school.

Franz Kafka

I was first exposed to Franz Kafka in high school when my English teacher assigned The Metamorphosis, a story about a man who suddenly wakes up as a giant, cockroach-like creature. I was then assigned another Kafka novel, The Trial, when I was in college. In both instances, I was confused and disturbed by this Czech novelist’s writing, but couldn’t deny that I hadn’t read anything like it before.

He would have used his arms and his hands to push himself up; but instead of them he only had all those little legs continuously moving in different directions, and which he was moreover unable to control. If he wanted to bend one of them, then that was the first one that would stretch itself out; and if he finally managed to do what he wanted with that leg, all the others seemed to be set free and would move about painfully. “This is something that can’t be done in bed,” Gregor said to himself, “so don’t keep trying to do it.”

– Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

Any time a creative piece explores existentialism and feelings of helplessness, it is called “Kafkaesque.” Kafka revolutionized surrealist, nightmarish writing in contemporary settings. He often wrote about bureaucracies overpowering people in bizarre ways, like through a trial that is held without a clear crime that has been committed.

His style of writing was influenced by his upbringing as a Jewish man in late 19th century Germany, as a socialist and possible anarchist, and as someone with deep-seated mental health issues, which caused him to be withdrawn and skeptical of those around him—elements that are prominent in his novels.

While he wasn’t popular while he was alive, many writers and filmmakers have adapted his style to their own works of science fiction and horror.

Being Like Kafka

Your writing style, like Kafka’s, will also be informed by your personal beliefs and how you interpret/deal with emotion. Kafka’s writing reflected his anti-establishment philosophies and overall skepticism. He also had a strange, almost grotesque idea of how people perceived him. So, he wrote about an insect man.

If you’re not good at expressing emotions in face-to-face situations, you may opt to do it in writing. And, if you’re a highly emotional person like me, your writing may be the complete opposite … snarky and generally devoid of honest emotions (you gotta take a break from it all somehow).

Your perception of the world, and your identity, will be pivotal in creating a writing style that is unique to you and no one else.

The Writing Styles of: The Women

Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley grew up in an environment perfect for nurturing a brilliant writer. Her father, William Godwin, was a philosopher, and her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was a prolific journalist and advocate for women’s rights. She was primped and primed for literary greatness from birth. And then she married Percy Shelley, a famous poet in the Age of Romanticism.

There’s a rumor that Frankenstein was created because of a bet between Mary Shelley, her husband, and Lord Byron. No one can quite confirm this story, but the fact remains that many women did write novels in spite of men, who said they couldn’t. Many 18th and 19th century works by women were direct responses to novels that men have written. Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian, as well as Clara Reeve’s The Old English Baron, were responses to Matthew Lewis’ The Monk and Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, respectively.

Shelley’s writing style was influenced by the romanticism she observed in her husband’s writing, and the styles perpetuated by Gothic literature. She also infused her writing with philosophical questions, which she learned from her father, and raw emotion, which she experienced as a result of the early death of her mother, and which she could express only through writing.

There is something at work in my soul which I do not understand. I am practically industrious — painstaking, a workman to execute with perseverance and labour — but besides this there is a love for the marvellous, a belief in the marvellous, intertwined in all my projects, which hurries me out of the common pathways of men, even to the wild sea and unvisited regions I am about to explore.

– Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Being Like Shelley

Shelley, much like Kafka, wrote with an awareness of her emotions; anger, fear, sadness, and even emotions that she couldn’t quite understand. Frankenstein was written to answer the question: what would happen if a scientist took things too far? She also tapped into feelings of unfamiliarity within the self and the environment.

Exploring how you deal with emotions and questions of morality will help you establish a clear voice and position in your writing. That, paired with your experiences and outside influences, will get you in the same writing mindset as Shelley.

Agatha Christie

Another well-known and prolific writer, Agatha Christie published over 60 literary works and is considered to be the master of contemporary detective novels. Her writing style was heavily influenced by her time as a nurse in World War I, and her personal interest in archeology.

Mentions of war, or plots related to the war, often appear in her novels, and she used the knowledge she acquired as a nurse to inform her mysteries. She utilized a variety of poisons to carry out the murders in her stories, and used the psychological trauma of war and war recovery to deepen the emotional connection between the audience and her characters.

Her interest in archaeology resulted in ancient artifacts and archaeologists being heavily featured in her novels, often containing heavily symbolic meaning within the storylines.

“It’s those little figures, sir. In the middle of the table. The little china figures. Ten of them, there were. I’ll swear to that, ten of them,” sputters Mr. Rogers as he realizes that after the deaths of Marston and Mrs. Rogers, the number has been reduced to eight.

– Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None

While Christie’s novels border on formulaic, they were not considered to be so at the time of their creation. Many mystery writers try to mimic her style of writing to no avail. There’s only one Christie.

Being Like Christie

As I said before, write what you know. Christie was into archeology, so she frequently included it in her mysteries. Her use of china dolls to represent the remaining characters showed her passion for ancient objects that symbolized life and death.

Do you have a hobby? Extensive knowledge about a certain topic? Allow those things to inform what and how you write. Your interests will be unique to you, and therefore unique to your writing. I’m a huge literary history nerd, so I wrote this article. It was a match made in heaven.

Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston may not be quite as well known as the authors I’ve referenced above, but her style is one of the most unique and important writing styles that I’ve read.

Hurston was born, and grew up, in the post-Civil War, pre-Civil Rights South. The Jim Crow era. She spent most of her childhood in Eatonville, Florida, one of the first all-black towns to be incorporated into the United States. She later described Eatonville as a place where African Americans could live freely and as they wanted—independent of white society and without pervasive racism.

Her experiences and culture are what contributed to her writing style, which could be described as rhythmic and lyrical. She wrote in colloquial Southern dialects that mimicked the language she grew up hearing. Furthermore, since many African Americans were illiterate prior to the Reconstruction Era, they told stories through song and speech. Hurston’s lyrical writing reflects that kind of storytelling and the hymns she recited as the daughter of a Baptist preacher.

Listen, Sam, if it was nature, nobody wouldn’t have tuh look out for babies touchin’ stoves, would they? ’Cause dey just naturally wouldn’t touch it. But dey sho will. So it’s caution. Naw it ain’t, it’s nature, cause nature makes caution. It’s de strongest thing dat God ever made, now. Fact is it’s de onliest thing God every made. He made nature and nature made everything else.

– Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Her strong connection to her heritage and her unwavering dedication to uplifting black writers and readers made her a pioneer of African American literature and the Harlem Renaissance.

Being Like Hurston

Writing has always had cultural significance. It is utilized during revolutions, protests, times of oppression, and times of peace. It also reflects the differences in the many cultures around the world and preserves traditions that may be lost over time. Your writing style may be a way to connect with your heritage, or a way to explore your identity, as with Hurston.

If using colloquialisms or slang feels natural to you, then don’t be afraid to make that a characteristic of your writing.

The Writing Styles of: The Contemporaries

Hunter S. Thompson

writing styles

A true revolutionary, Hunter S. Thompson believed in a no-bullshit attitude when it came to writing, while also greatly exaggerating events to make them more entertaining. He was quite the character.

Thompson is often credited with the creation of “gonzo” journalism, which is journalism without objectivity. While he originally studied authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway, he soon discovered that objectivity just wasn’t for him. Thompson would insert himself into the stories he’d write, if not physically, then emotionally—often using his experiences and feelings on the topic to color his writing. His form of journalism often blurred the lines between fact and fiction.

One of his most famous pieces came from his time living as a biker of the Hells Angels. He wrote about his experiences, even when they made him out to be ugly, for the purposes of exposing the hypocrisy and corruption of society.

Hallucinations are bad enough. But after a while you learn to cope with things like seeing your dead grandmother crawling up your leg with a knife in her teeth. Most acid fanciers can handle this sort of thing. But nobody can handle that other trip—the possibility that any freak with $1.98 can walk into Circus Circus and suddenly appear in the sky over downtown Las Vegas twelve times the size of God, howling anything that comes into his mind. No, this is not a good town for psychedelic drugs. Reality itself is too twisted.

– Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Being Like Thompson

Much like Hemingway, Thompson relied on his experiences to inform his writing. Except he did something a little more … unconventional. Thompson put himself in situations that would give him unique experiences to write about. He joined a biker gang, did drugs in Vegas, and ran for sheriff of a little town in Colorado.

If you feel you have a lack of experience, do what Thompson did and take a few risks. Putting yourself out there will give you a wealth of material and expose you to different perspectives you may not have considered before. Not ready to join a biker gang? Maybe hike the Pacific Crest Trail like Cheryl Strayed did for Wild. Or go skydiving!

Open yourself up to new experiences and your writing will thank you for it.

Toni Morrison

writing styles

Toni Morrison is one of the most respected contemporary American writers. She’s won the Pulitzer Prize, the American Book Award, and oh yeah, the Nobel Prize in Literature.

She had a tumultuous childhood, her parents deliberately setting fire to their home when she was just two years old. Nevertheless, they raised her to be driven, intelligent, and aware of her heritage. She was an ambitious student, who read the likes of Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy when she was very young.

Her writing style is influenced by her African American culture, her life experiences, and the historical significance of the time period she grew up in. She uses modern conventions like varied sentence structures, descriptive analogies, and historical references to ground the reader in the time period. Her writing has always been accessible to the masses, while still being incredibly complex and poignant.

There is a loneliness that can be rocked. Arms crossed, knees drawn up; holding, holding on, this motion, unlike a ship’s, smooths and contains the rocker. It’s an inside kind—wrapped tight like skin. Then there is a loneliness that roams. No rocking can hold it down. It is alive, on its own. A dry and spreading thing that makes the sound of one’s own feet going seem to come from a far-off place.

– Toni Morrison, Beloved

Being Like Morrison

As I mentioned with Hurston, writing and culture have gone hand in hand since the written word was created. However, unlike Hurston, Morrison keeps to contemporary writing conventions.

Research and authenticity are all well and good, but beware of being too committed to your art. Your style of writing should be both true to you and true to your time. If you try mimicking Hurston’s writing style today, you’d better be impeccable at it or it’s going to flop.

Morrison knows that she can represent her identity and culture in a way that is accessible to contemporary audiences, while still respectful of the historical significance behind her words.

When writing about sensitive topics, always be cautious as to how it will be read by others and how they may process it. Be honest with yourself, of course, but also consider who you’re writing for.

Ottessa Moshfegh

Ottessa Moshfegh isn’t interested in your comfort.

Through the eyes of deeply flawed, morally complex characters, Ottessa tends to explore the dark underbelly of humanity, using caustic humor to highlight themes of addiction, isolation, violence, and existential dread.

Stylistically, Ottessa’s prose is relatively straightforward, but though it’s easy-to-read — it isn’t always easy to swallow. Her writing pushes boundaries and evokes unease, challenging the reader with grotesque language surrounding bodily functions and vivid depictions of human cruelty.
Ottessa’s writing is not for everyone. And yet, it’s beloved by millions.

Since the publication of her debut novel, Eileen in 2015, Ottessa’s dark, unsettling, thought-
provoking fiction has earned her a Booker prize nomination, a Hemingway Foundation award, and countless weeks atop the New York Times bestseller list. My Year of Rest and Relaxation
has gained almost cult-like notoriety, beloved by an audience that is comprised of everybody
from teenagers on TikTok to adults struggling with the profound loneliness and isolation
brought upon by the pandemic.

On September 11, I went out and bought a new TV/VCR at Best Buy so I could record the news coverage of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers. Trevor was on a honeymoon in Barbados, I’d later learn, but Reva was lost. Reva was gone. I watched the videotape over and over to soothe myself that day. And I continue to watch it, usually on a lonely afternoon, or any other time I doubt that life is worth living, or when I need courage, or when I am bored. Each time I see the woman leap off the seventy-eighth floor of the North Tower—one high-heeled shoe slipping off and hovering up over her, the other stuck on her foot as though it were too small, her blouse untucked, hair flailing, limbs stiff as she plummets down, one arm raised, like a dive into a summer lake—I am overcome by awe, not because she looks like Reva, and I think it’s her, almost exactly her, and not because Reva and I had been friends, or because I’ll never see her again, but because she is beautiful. There she is, a human being, diving into the unknown, and she is wide awake.

– Ottessa Moshfegh, My Year of Rest and Relaxation

Despite the content of her work, Ottessa’s stories aren’t misanthropic. They’re honest. She’s
not interested in writing for shock value, but rather driven by a passion for storytelling and a
deep curiosity about humanity. And she uses this curiosity to explore the the things that we’re
afraid to confront not only about others — but about ourselves.

Being Like Moshfegh

There’s a natural anxiety to becoming a writer, and the impulse to create art that is light,
relatable, and pleasant to consume comes from our paralyzing fear of failure.

“If that agent I’m cold-emailing doesn’t connect with my writing, why would they publish it?”
“If that Barnes and Noble customer hates the blurb on the back of my novel, why would they buy it?”
“If my book doesn’t sell, why would my parents stop telling me to get a ‘real job?’”

Here’s some frustrating advice: in order to become a great writer, you really need to stop worrying about it.

Eileen, a 1960s-era novel about a filthy, miserable social outcast who works in a boys’
penitentiary and pisses in jars, recently had it’s on-screen debut at Sundance — a film starring
Anne Hathaway and Thomasin McKenzie. Ottessa recently completed the screenplay for My
Year of Rest and Relaxation, a feature adaptation to be developed by Margot Robbie and —
rumor has it — directed by Yorgos Lanthimos.

Your writing will not fail simply because it’s too weird for other people.

Seriously, stop worrying about it.

To write like Ottessa is to write fearlessly — to write unconcerned with appealing to a wide
audience or for the comfort of others. It’s the ability to be sincere in your passion, curious in
your creativity, and vulnerable in your self-exploration. It’s to write with trust that your audience
— whoever they may be — are just as unconventional as you are.

And they’re waiting for somebody brave enough to tell their story.

Your Revolutionary Writing Style

It may take a while to really nail down exactly what your writing style is, but I assure you it’s already there. It’s been developing since the day you started writing.

If you want to up the ante, though, consider doing what the greats did. Turn to your cultural roots like Hurston or Morrison. Fight against the norms of society like Hemingway and Thompson. Although, in the modern age, that might mean composing a story using only emojis … yikes.

If you are committed to being remembered, you’ll have to carve out your own place in history.

You’ll have to dedicate yourself night and day to setting yourself apart.

Good luck.

Photo credit: librakv

About the Author Erika Rasso

Erika Rasso graduated from the University of Central Florida with a B.A. in English and marketing and the University of California, Los Angeles with an MFA in Screenwriting. She has worked as a writing consultant, an editor for literary and academic journals, and as an assistant to film and TV producers. In her free time, Erika enjoys playing games and writing screenplays (though mostly she just watches WAY too many shows on Netflix). She is the Director of Production for Craft Your Content.

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Teena says

I think Ayn Rand also had a unique writing skill of her own which made her work stand out.

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batmansbestfriend says

Anyone who says that Ayn Rand is unique…without adding ly bad to the end of it has never read her work. Seriously…a 60 page speech by one character??? 60 pages with one character talking and that’s it? Seriously?

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