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Transgressive Fiction Style (Part 1)

John Waters, Divine in Ecstasy, 1992. Chromogenic print. Collection of Amy and Zachary Lehman. Image courtesy of Marianne Boesky Gallery(source)


According to M.H. Abrams, style is traditionally defined as “the manner of linguistic expression in prose or verse—it is how speakers or writers say whatever it is that they say.”(source)

Before I get into the specific style for writing Transgressive fiction, let me tell you about style, in general, for writing. There are four main types of writing: expository, descriptive, persuasive, and narrative. Each of these writing styles is used for a specific purpose. Remember that a single text may include more than one writing style.


This is one of the most common types of writing. The goal of writers using this style is to explain a concept, convey information from themselves to the readers. Expository writing does not include the author’s opinions but focuses on accepted facts about a topic, including statistics or other evidence. Examples can be textbooks, How-to articles, recipes, news stories, business, technical, or scientific writing.


This is often found in fiction, though it can make an appearance in nonfiction as well, such as memoirs. The goal here is to paint a picture in words of a person, place, or thing for the readers. In this case, the writer may use metaphor or other literary devices in order to describe one's impressions through their five senses. But there is no need in this method to convince the readers of anything. The examples can be poetry, fictional stories/novels, or plays, description of the scenery, diary writing, etc.


This is the main style for academic papers mostly. The goal is to convince the readers of a position or idea. Persuasive writing includes the writer's ideas and biases, as well as reasonings and justifications. Examples can be reviews, advertisements, academic papers, essays, cover letters, etc.


This is used in almost every longer piece of writing, whether fiction or nonfiction. The goal is to impart information as well as to construct and communicate a story, complete with characters, conflict, and settings. Examples can be oral lore, poetry, short stories, Novels/Novellas, anecdotes.

Oral histories

Elements of Writing Style

According to Dr. Stephen Wilbers, there are 5 elements for effective writing that if I put them into the frame of creative writing can be: Purpose (What's your central argument?), Organization (how you link concepts and ideas together?), Support (what backs up your idea and purpose?), Expression (what is your word choice and point of view?), and Correctness (editing and rewriting).

Features of the style include the following:

  • diction (word choice): Are the words simple or fancy? Are they technical, flowery, colloquial, cerebral, punning, obscure (and so on...)?

  • sentence structure and syntax: Are the sentences long or short? Why do they change? Do they contain many subordinate clauses, or are they often fragments? Are there any digressions or interruptions? Is the word-order straightforward or unconventionally crafted? Is the writing tight and efficient, or elaborate and long-winded? When does the author use one or the other mode, and why?

  • nature of figurative language: Are there any metaphors, similes, or symbols? Are there any other uses of figurative language (personification, metonymy, and so on)?

  • rhythm and component sound: Is the writing tight and efficient, or elaborate and long-winded? When does the author use one or the other mode, and why?

  • rhetorical patterns (e.g. narration, description, comparison-contrast, etc.): How often does dialogue tell the story? Do we see whole conversations or just fragments? Does the conversation use slang or is it formal? Does it appear natural or contrived? Does the dialogue give a sense of pacing, of pauses, of the unsaid? How much does it substitute for narration?

Don't forget that these elements overlap to a considerable extent. To put it short, there are two general elements to define style:

Voice: Voice is the personality you take on in your writing. It is the point of view through which you’re telling a story.

Tone: Tone is identified by the attitude that a piece of writing conveys. Writers create tone through elements like word choice, sentence structure, and grammar. (source)

How to Develop Writing Style

Based on personal experience, I can say, you will develop a style first by copying the style of your favorite authors or artists. That means the way you come across in your writing defines your style. Then gradually the more you write, read, and study, the more unique your style can be. A unique style of writing is the signature way of telling a story or communicating an idea. It is the rhythm of the words you use.

Once I have a name for a character or the whole story, I work on writing into that character’s voice. As I explained in my previous article, Transgressive Fiction Characters, language is a tool that can help you to separate character voices from one another. For example, if I have a sophisticated character, I most likely use sophisticated diction, if they are unhappy about a situation, lack sophistication, I normally use sarcasm and abrasive insults while describing other characters or in difficult circumstances.

Janet Burroway, author of the book Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, explains that “the trick to writing good dialogue is hearing voice. The question is, what would he or she say? The answer is entirely language” (77).

This rule applies to more than just dialogue and I can say it especially true when you're writing in the first person POV, and especially if you're writing multiple characters in the first person. What I normally do is to fluctuate language from narrator to narrator by creating some with more descriptive language and others with less, some talk in longer sentences some in short, some prefer body language to oral, some use too many insults, some are exceptionally polite, some have specific accents. Likewise, I try to change the tone depending on who is narrating. For example, some are antagonistic, some empathetic, some philosophizing societal issues and tapping into individual insecurities for the purposes of exploitation, some question to convict, some question to assist, and some question to manipulate. Some are sarcastic, cynical, and aggressive, some are sympathetic and equal parts doleful and hopeful and some are assertive, self-assured, enthusiastic, and informative. Here are some personal tips for developing your own style:

Tips Part 1

1) Read a lot, research a lot, write more:

Yeah, I know everyone tells you that but before you can become a writer, you need to read. It's like becoming anything. If you want to be a surgeon, you don't just go to the operation room with a fork and knife and cut a person alive and conscious with your dull knife, do you? You have to study, observe, read, research, and practice before you become a real surgeon. Like others, I recommend you to read any style and genre first. But then, only focus on the genre and style you prefer. I have a whole collection of Jose Saramago,

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Kafka, Chekhov, Sartre books. They are the ones that I loved reading their books the most and I can say, I copied them a lot. I even remember before I decide writing Transgressive Fiction with my first anthology, IDEO: The Bitter Recipes of The Truth, I was writing romance and I sat down and wrote all the beautiful terms, phrases, descriptions, metaphors, etc. of Madame Bovary Novel by Gustave Flaubert because I adored how he described everything. I wanted to write like that and I did in my first Novel, Starless Nights (nope, don't ask me to give you a copy. I wrote it with a pencil on A4 paper and I burned it years later.)

I wrote a lot before I decide to publish and I threw them away because this is who I am (don't judge me). The more I wrote, the more I realized I was copying my favorite books or authors' style, not intentionally this time, but subconsciously and gradually, my style becomes my very own. If you read a piece without my name on it and you know my style, you would definitely guess that was me.


2) First Impression: I make the same mistake that I sometimes ignore the fact that I and my editor can make mistakes. But I am sure, I won't make it in the very first three pages. Your words on the printed page create a first impression just like your clothes and general appearance when you arrive for a job interview. If someone picks your book and on the page, one sees misspellings, typos, and wrong words, you will convey a sloppy style that is bound to lower your credibility as a writer and thinker. I reread my last draft several times but still slight typos skip (bastards!).

WARNING! Do Not Rely on Spell-check and Grammar-check Programs

3) Effects of Diction: There are different effects that you can create by using short, concrete words in contrast to longer, abstract ones. You also need to consider the origin of words: what are the linguistic roots of the word and what associations do these create? Sometimes, I use words from Old English over words from Latin and French to create different stylistic effects.


4) Voice: Your personal oral vocabulary is linked to your writing and it means your natural voice should inform your writing. We normally use vocabularies ranging from colloquial slang to commonly used professional jargon. As a writer, you need to review

and revise your vocabulary to achieve a consistent level of language suited to your purpose and audience. For example, in The Legend of Kelpie, co-authored by Marianna Govender, I avoided using foul language as this book is written for an audience below age 18. I can't always avoid curse words though so I created my own for the characters I was writing.

WARNING! Highly informal language can be colorful and effective, but even in the right contexts, conversational style can also include numerous clichés. We hate clichés. Please DO avoid them!

5) Sentence Structure and Syntax: Sentence structure and word order impact style through the lengths of thought units and the patterns of grammatical order. For example, I use shorter sentences to be easier to read. I also use shorter sentences, sometimes only words, to show speed and action and longer ones to show slowmotion. Sometimes, I change the grammar to show how a specific person from a unique culture may think or talk. For example, In the Legend of Kelpie, Lint was a rabbit living in an upsidedown world underground. She was brainwashed to think she is who she is. In her culture, entertainment and joy had no place so she could not express anything related to joy or happiness because it was count as a waste of time. So, they had to speak fast and short. In addition, as they lived underground, they had no perception of day or night as the whole city was lit by artificial light. So, I tried to use this perception to develop her attitude and the way she used words.

If you’re familiar with the principle of linguistic relativity, it states that the way people think of the world is influenced directly by the language that the people use to talk about it. Or more radically, people could only perceive aspects of the world for which their language has words. (source)

NOTE: Use your life experiences OR RESEARCH

6) Be flexible: change your tone and voice if necessary. Depends on the style or situation, you may need to shift through a different writing style. The way I wrote ENARO, IDEO, or Feminomaniacs is different from The Legend of Kelpie or Insects Circus (WIP) or poetry week with SEAPOWRIMO. Also, be flexible on cutting, removing, moving, and rewriting different parts of your story. Sometimes, you even may need to sacrifice a whole character for your story to work.

WARNING! Beware the “Bermuda Triangle” which is part of a sentence refers to the middle part, that we use for words that are less important.

Well, I guess that's enough for this week. Let's continue next week. This week, there's no homework for you:)

Fun Fact

Waters and his friends were arrested and charged with “conspiracy to commit indecent exposure" while filming part of his first full-length movie, Mondo Trasho (1969). The scene in question featured a naked hitchhiker in a convertible and was shot on Johns Hopkins University’s campus. The only problem? Waters hadn’t thought to ask the college for permission. (Source)

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