How do I find my writing style

Practical tips: How to find and improve your writing style

Writing down your own story - this is what many dream of. Me too. Like many others, I have had time in the last few months. But how do I find the style and language that suits me for my book so that others want to read it? Juliane Hartmann went on a search and put together the best tips.

Diaries, letters, emails, blog posts - I write regularly. But a book is a different number. If your story is to be read by people outside your circle of acquaintances, it has to be interesting and well written.

But what does "well-written" mean? How do I learn good writing? How do I find my style? Should I join a writing group? Take an online writing class? Read books about writing?

I've read the writing guides of four different authors from different decades. I quickly realized: Writing is a craft more than I thought. There are clear rules. The expert tips are all amazingly similar.

However: The guides are full of tips on brainstorming and creativity, on figure drawing and plot construction. Little or no specific information can be found about language, style and how to find and improve it.

Common writing rules: tools as a basis

At the latest during my first writing exercise, I realized that writing is hard work.

I also noticed: It's like so often in life. Talent may play a role, even more so in a creative process like writing than in any other activity. But you don't just need talent to write. There is a lot that can be learned. Tool that you can use.

The following are the most important rules for a good writing style. As a base.

Show don’t tell

Show don’t tell. Show, don't tell.

It is the Writing rule. The one you hear about in every writing seminar. That you read about everywhere. I had heard it many times too. But not internalized. What does this showing mean? Sol Stein dedicates a chapter in his book to the writing rule About writing. His first example worked wonders.

"He was nervous." Versus "He drummed his fingers on the table."

I understood then.

"She got angry." Versus "She kicked the paddling pool so that half of the water spilled out and splashed onto the cobblestones."

Or: "I'm hot." Versus "The jeans are sticking to my thigh."

Task for you: Try to find three examples of your own. After that, you should stumble upon your own words if they are "I'm tired" or "He got aggressive" or "She seemed impatient."

Which brings us to the second rule ...

No adjectives

Nervous. Angry. Hot. These are the examples for explaining in the previous section. These adjectives do not show, but explain.

Adjectives are therefore annoying in the eyes of experts. This is not a ban on adjectives. But a request for targeted use of the adjectives. Ludwig Reiners writes in his Style guide: "Only use adjectives when you add something new that the reader needs to know."

Also the Brockhaus-Ratgaber Creative Writing warns: »Check for each adjective or adverb whether it is really appropriate and meaningful. If not, you should replace it or even delete it. "

Or have you read or heard Albert Camus ’" The Plague "? The fictional character Grand wants to write a novel and sticks to the first sentence. One option after great effort by Grand is:

"On a fine May morning a slender Amazon rode a beautiful chestnut mare through the flowering avenues of the Bois de Boulogne."

Should it be a wonderful, shiny, strong or even black (!) Chestnut mare? Grand doesn't get any further. At the end of the book, Grand says he left out all adjectives. Camus’ humor.

No nominal style

Lots of nouns. Nominal style. Official German. Science language.

The nominal style creates distance, sounds stiff. Words with -ung are especially bad. Reiner's rule: "If you find a noun with -ung in your text that describes an action, check whether you can replace it with a sentence!"

If you verbalize your sentences, they will sound livelier and easier to understand.

Reiners quotes in his Style guide none other than Caesar:

"I came, saw and conquered."

Reiner's alternative offer as an example of the "main word epidemic":

"After arriving and inspecting the situation, I was able to achieve victory."

Actively write

It goes in the direction of verbalization: active writing.

People who are active and act themselves are more exciting personalities than those who only react. This is also the case with writing: Use the active form whenever possible and avoid the passive. This makes a text livelier and more exciting.

For example: "She was watched by everyone."

Better: "Everyone was watching her." Or "All eyes were on her."

You can also actively write from the perspective of things (see below: Taking the perspective of objects). Anne Reinecke does it in the novel Leinsee in front:

"Today the café opened its grass-green umbrellas."

Sounds better than "The grass-green umbrellas were open in the café." Or doesn't it?

No phrases, empty phrases and filler words

Why can't I write, "That bright yellow sign catches my eye?" At first I found it difficult to accept this rule. The answer: Phrases and empty phrases are trite and boring. The reader wants to be surprised and entertained.

On a linguistic level, this means: change phrases, scoop up words, put phrases and words back together. You don't always have to reinvent the wheel. But you can reinvent the bike.

Or: "The bright yellow sign pops me in the eye."

Another example from a novel: “I stepped outside through the courtyard gate and looked at the meadow, where the fodder was lush and green; it shone from afar. "(Reinhard Kaiser-Mühlecker: The long corridor through the stations). Forage instead of grass. Nice.

If you want to be inspired, the Sternvogelreisen page is a hot tip. It's about beautiful words. You can have a vocabulary spit out on various topics. For example with rose: 79 fragrant rose words from rose face, rose look, rose blossom fragrance to rose fresh. When browsing the site, you almost want to start writing.

To the lovely filler words: each but, also, and, so, at all, Yes, so, much wants to be checked. Actually, every word in a text wants to be checked to see whether it is superfluous. Checking is particularly important for filler words. Most (but not all) are redundant. Look at your texts, think twice about each but and alsowhether it doesn't sound better without the word.

Synonyms en masse spit out the online synonym dictionaries from Woxikon and if you want to exchange the word of a phrase and are looking for a similar word.

When I saw a few of my lines in Papyrus Autor, a writing software for writers, the program asked me for every third word, "Is this word necessary?" I realized that it is often (but not always) redundant. The style test of the program was developed based on the ideas of bestselling author Andreas Eschbach.

Short sentences and no box sentences

Anyone who writes in a complicated manner and in long sentences makes it difficult for the reader. If it gets too strenuous, he stops reading. Avoid long sentences and nested sentences with multiple subordinate clauses.

If unique and complex sentence constructions are part of your years of elaborate writing style, you can certainly make a name for yourself with it. Then you are an exception. The beginner is advised: Sometimes less is more. Try short sentences instead. Why not with one word sentences?

"Incredible. The photo shoot. The marathon. The town. New York is crazy. Colorful. Huge. According to. Cordially. "

That is not to say that your book should consist of sentences of two words or less. Vary the sentence length and insert short sentences from time to time. That loosens up the text. All experts agree on that. Further examples of this linguistic minimalism:

"Dark eyes, curved lips, a lot of forehead and sharp black brows." Anne Reinecke: Leinsee

“Sometimes it doesn't take much. Just decency. And compassion. And words that are hauntingly quiet. A plan, of course. " Klaus Brinkbäumer: The hero who listens to facts

Comparisons and metaphors

After a lot of things that are better left behind, now something that you should incorporate into your texts: comparisons. An extremely popular stylistic device. Comparisons clarify facts and make the reader smile, if not laugh.

"... the sky is light blue like a baby blanket." Christina Baker Kline: The Train of Orphans

"The sun looked like a red peach in a bowl of milk." Wolfgang Herrndorf: Tschick

"... the huge supermarket that stood like a shoebox in the landscape." Wolfgang Herrndorf: Tschick

"He felt as if he had been run over by a steamroller." Andreas Eschbach: One trillion dollars - although: isn't this comparison, which has been worn out in the meantime, just another phrase?

Sometimes I look for a comparison while cycling or cooking. Sometimes the perfect comparison just pops up without my searching. Finding comparisons and metaphors is like doing crossword puzzles.

The difference: the metaphor is an implicit, the comparison an explicit comparison, so the Brockhaus-Ratgaber Creative Writing. The example from the book:

"Your hair is a field of wheat ears." (Metaphor)

"Her hair shines golden like a field with ears of wheat in the evening sun." (Comparison)

Take the perspective of objects

Humanize things. Also a popular stylistic device. Diana Hillebrand distributed in her guidebook Have you already written today? the writing exercise: biography about a house. For those who find it difficult to describe moods, she advises: "Give the house human characteristics."

An example from Anne Reinecke's novel Leinsee:

“The furniture didn't care for seven years or a dead father. The furniture didn't care about the space required. The furniture didn't care who sat on it and slept in it. "

Questions and exclamations

“I went into the bathroom and wondered where the shower, toilet and sink were. When I was going around in circles, I realized that none of this exists. That struck me as very strange. "


“The bathroom. But where is the shower? The toilet? The wash basin? I enter the room, turn once in a circle. There is no such thing! "

Which sounds better? Variation one or two. Variation one sounds like a diary entry. And you write a diary to yourself. Questions and exclamations provide excitement, variety and surprise,

The attentive reader

Make a note of what other authors say

At the same time as the writing guides, I was reading novels. I always read novels and non-fiction books at the same time. Suddenly I took a much closer look at the novels, perceived the language much more consciously, literally absorbed creative formulations and beautiful linguistic images. What a new reading pleasure!

"The letter made me a more attentive reader," said a few months ago an author who described herself as not very ambitious. Now I know what she meant.

Learning to write makes you a more attentive reader! For this reason alone, it is worthwhile to deal with the craft of writing. The preoccupation with language increases the reading pleasure.

Since that aha experience, I've been keeping a Word document with the title Formulations, in which I write down sentences from books that I particularly like.

Of course not to steal them and take them over 1: 1 - the sentences of other authors do not fit into my text at all, as I have noticed. But as an inspiration. As a basis for your own thoughts. This document has become an important tool in the writing process.

The notebook

I also bought a notebook. A real book with pages made of paper that you write in with a pen. Has more style than the Word document.

If I can think of a fabulous comparison on the way, if I hear a sentence in a song or poem or from a conversation partner that I want to write down. In case I have a thought that I might need for some project. Or just a thought that I want to keep to myself.

Writing advisor

As mentioned earlier, I've worked with several writing guides. Not tossed over from front to back, but read the chapters that were relevant at the time.

All counselors helped me. Each for himself and all together by repeating the most common writing rules.

Diana Hillebrand: Have you already written today?

Diana Hillebrand is a writing trainer. Although I have never seen them personally, just read them, I saw their guides Have you already written today? a warm and motivating teacher in front of me.

The first volume is about ideas, characters, perspective, location and dialogues. The basics. An interactive book with lots of writing exercises and examples. The second volume is about plot and plan, building tension, ending and revising, publishing and marketing.

Hillebrand, Diana: Already written today ?: Complete edition / Set: consisting of Volume 1 and Volume 2 - A writing guide with many writing tips (Already written today? / With professional tips for book success, Volume 1 and 2). Hardback edition. 2015. Uschtrin, S. ISBN / EAN: 9783932522192. 39.98 € »Order at display orin bookstores

Sol Stein: About writing

Sol Stein's advisor is in the chapters Basics, Fictional literature, Non-fictional literature, Literary values and editorial staff divided. The basics are taught here. This book was particularly helpful to me with the concise examples.

Stone, sol; Götting, Waltraud (translator): About writing. Hardback edition. 2015. Authors House Verlag GmbH. ISBN / EAN: 9783866711266. 22.99 € »Order at display orin bookstores

Brockhaus: Creative Writing

creativity, genre, Poetry, Nonfiction, language, Stylistic devices, plot, Tell and characters are the chapter headings. The guide gives a good overview of many topics, explains briefly and concisely. A writing training with exercises is attached to each chapter. The book is only available second-hand.

Brockhaus Creative Writing: From the blank sheet to the finished text. Paperback. 2013. knowledge media. ISBN / EAN: 9783577003032. 29.90 € »Order at display orin bookstores

Ludwig Reiners: Style Guide (see also addendum below)

Now another very special work. The Style guide. First published in the 1950s. The author Ludwig Reiners was born in 1896 and died in 1957.

I skipped the basic grammar and started with the second lesson. My first impression: The Style guide comes from another time. The author warns: “Avoid same. Leave it out entirely or replace it with him, her, it. "

An example that is given: "The balloon was over the garden of Mr. Kommerzienrat Mayer when it burst." "The same" will no longer be said in 2020. On this point, Reiners prevailed.

The Style guide is the only one of the writing guides mentioned that I read and worked through from the second lesson to the end. With a lot of humor and in a varied way, Reiners conveys - with the exception of "the same" - important writing basics even today.

Twenty style rules and style advice form the core of the book. The material is deepened through fictitious student-teacher discussions and exercises. Read the Style guide! Learn and be entertained. Unfortunately, the book is only available as an antiquarian.

Reiners, Ludwig: Stilfibel - The sure way to good German. Paperback. 1963. dtv publishing company. ISBN / EAN: 9783423300056

Addendum: Ludwig Reiner's style primer is considered a plagiarism of Eduard Engel's style primer

As we were informed in the comments, Ludwig Reiner's style primer is viewed as a plagiarism of the style primer by Eduard Engel (1851–1938). According to Wikipedia, Engels style primer appeared for the first time in 1911. Engels was considered conservative and German national, but was of Jewish faith, which later became his undoing. He was no longer allowed to publish, received no pension and was defamed by the Nazis. He died impoverished in 1938.
Ludwig Reiners (1896–1957) published his style primer for the first time in 1944 at C. H.Beck Verlag and apparently made generous use of Engels' ideas and formulations. Reiner's work was available from dtv until the 2000s, while Engel's style guide was no longer published. It was not until 2016 that the work appeared again in the Other Library, and in 2017 Persephone Verlag published the 1922 edition of Engel's style primer in an updated version, which is now available again as a paperback edition. (Red.)

Eduard, Engel: German style art: New edition of the classic. Paperback. 2017. Persephone Verlag. ISBN / EAN: 9783952472903. 19.99 € »Order at display orin bookstores


Writing is a craft, and at the same time a creative process. There are an infinite number of ways to string together the letters, syllables, parts of words and words in our language.

The possibilities can be exhausted by the inexhaustibility. The search for a suitable word and phrase, a funny comparison can be grueling. Hard work anyway.

We have a linguistic sea of ​​possibilities at our disposal! It's fun to swim in this sea. Romp around in it!

And if it gets too much for you, take a break. Do the math and let yourself be seduced by the clear language of mathematics. Or go for a walk.

Try writing! And let us help you. From experts. From other authors. Or from advisers.

How did you find or improve your writing style? What tips can you give and what are your experiences? Let me know in the comments on this post below.

Juliane Hartmann