Style and Tone Style relates to an author’s use of vocabulary, level of diction, sentence structure, arrangement of ideas. It is “a combination of two elements: the idea to be expressed and the individuality of the author” (“Style” 487). Tone shows the author’s attitude toward his or her subject. A tone might be “formal, informal, intimate, solemn, sombre, playful, serious, ironic, condescending” (“Tone” 503). Editors Kennedy and Gioia suggest that “One of the clearest indications of tone in a story is the style in which it is written” (139).
Examples of Style French writer Raymond Queneau published one of the greatest works on style in 1947 in his amusing book, Exercises in Style. No lesson I can think of can give a better idea of what style is than Queneau’s own examples might do. In his book, he begins with a simple story and then rewrites the story 99 times, using a different style each time.
Queneau’s original story “On a crowded bus at midday, Raymond Queneau observes one man accusing another of jostling him deliberately. When a seat is vacated, the first man appropriates it. Later, in another part of town, Queneau sees the man being advised by a friend to sew another button on his overcoat” (Queneau cover blurb). Here follow several examples of Queneau’s 1947 exercises in style, as brilliantly translated by Barbara Wright in 1958.
Notation “In the S bus, in the rush hour. A chap of about 26, felt hat with a cord instead of a ribbon, neck too long, as if someone’s been having a tug-of-war with it. People getting off. The chap in question gets annoyed with one of the men standing next to him. He accuses him of jostling him every time anyone goes past. A snivelling tone which is meant to be aggreeeive. When he sees a vacant seat he throws himself on to it. Two hours later. I meet him in the Cour de Rome, in front of the gare Saint-Lazare. He’s with a friend who’s saying: ‘You ought to get an extra button put on your overcoat.’ He shows him where (at the lapels) and why” (19-20).
Precision “In a bus of the S-line, 10 metres long, 3 wide, 6 high, at 3 km. 600 m. from its starting point, loaded with 48 people, at 12.17 p.m., a person of the masculine sex aged 27 years 3 months and 8 days, 1m. 72 cm. tall and weighing 65 kg. and wearing a hat 35 cm. in height round the crown of which was a ribbon 60 cm. long, interpellated a man aged 48 years 4 months and 3 days, 1 m. 68 cm. tall and weighing 77 kg., by means of 14 words whose enunciation lasted 5 seconds and which alluded to some involuntary displacements of from 15 to 20 mm. Then he went and sat down about 1 m. 10 cm. away. 57 minutes later he was 10 metres away from the suburban entrance to the gare Saint-Lazare and was walking up and down over a distance of 30 m. with a friend aged 28, 1 m. 70 cm. tall and weighing 71 kg. who advised him in 15 words to move by 5 cm. in the direction of the zenith a button which was 3 cm. in diameter” (37-38).
Passive* “It was midday. The bus was being got into by passengers. They were being squashed together. A hat was being worn on the head of a young gentleman, which hat was encircled by a plait and not by a ribbon. A long neck was one of the characteristics of the young gentleman. The man standing next to him was being grumbled at by the latter because of the jostling which was being inflicted on him by him. As soon as a vacant seat was espied by the young gentleman it was made the object of his precipitate movements and it became sat down upon. The young gentleman was later seen by me in front of the gare Saint-Lazare. He was clothed in an overcoat and was having a remark made to him by a friend who happened to be there to the effect that it was necessary to have an extra button put on it” (72-73). * Passive voice is created by combining any form of the verbto be + the past participle of a verb: The gentleman was seen.
Probabilist “ The contacts between inhabitants of a large town are so numerous that one can hardly be surprised if there occasionally occurs between them a certain amount of friction which generally speaking is of no consequence. It so happened that I was recently present at one of these unmannerly encounters which generally take place in the vehicles intended for the transport of passengers in the Parisian region in the rush hours. There is not in any case anything astonishing in the fact that I was a witness of this encounter because I frequently travel in this fashion. On the day in question the incident was of the lowest order, but my attention was especially attracted by the physical aspect and the headgear of one of the protagonists of this miniature drama. This was a man who was still young, but whose neck was of a length which was probably above the average and whose hat-ribbon had been replaced by a plaited cord. Curiously enough I saw him again two hours later engaged in listening to some advice of a sartorial order which was being given to him by a friend in the company of whom he was walking up and down, rather nonchalantly I should have said. There was not much likelihood now that a third encounter would take place, and the fact is that from that day to this I have never seen the young man again, in conformity with the established laws of probability” (184-185).
Telegraphic “BUS CROWDED STOP YNGMAN LONGNECK PLAITENCIRCLED HAT APOSTROPHISES UNKNOWN PASSENGER UNAPPARENT REASON STOP QUERY FINGERS FEET HURT CONTACT HEEL ALLEGED PURPOSELY STOP YNGMAN ABANDONS DISCUSSION PROVACANT SEAT STOP 1400 HOURS PLACE ROME YNGMAN LISTENS SARTORIAL ADVICE FRIEND STOP MOVE BUTTON STOP SIGNED ARCTURUS” (123).
Surprises “How tightly packed we were on that bus platform! And how stupid and ridiculous that young man looked! And what was he doing? Well, if he wasn’t actually trying to pick a quarrel with a chap who—so he claimed! The young fop! kept on pushing him! And then he didn’t find anything better to do than to rush off and grab a seat which had become free! Instead of leaving it for a lady! Two hours after, guess whom I met in front of the gare Saint-Lazare! The same fancy-pants! Being given some sartorial advice! By a friend! You’d never believe it!” (26)
Gastronomical “After slowly roasting in the browned butter of the sun I finally managed to get into a pistachio bus which was crawling with customers as an overripe cheese crawls with maggots. Having paid my far, I noticed among all these noodles a poor fish with a neck as long as a stick of celery and a loaf surmounted by a ridiculous donkey’s dinner. This unsavory character started to beef because a chap was pounding the joints of his cheeses to pulp. But when he found that he had bitten off more than he could chew, he quailed like a lily-livered dunghill-cock and bolted off to stew in his own juice. I was digesting my lunch going back in the bus when I saw this half-baked individual in front of the buffet of the gare Saint-Lazare with a chap of his own kidney who was giving him the fruit of his experience on the subject of garnishing his coating, with particular reference to a cheese plate” (177-178).
Retrograde “You ought to put another button on your overcoat, his friend told him. I met him in the middle of the Cour de Rome, after having left him rushing avidly towards a seat. He had just protested against being pushed by another passenger who, he said, was jostling him every time anyone got off. This scraggy young man was the wearer of a ridiculous hat. This took place on the platform of an S bus which was full that particular midday” (25).
You Know “Well, you know, the bus arrived, so, you know, I got on. Then I saw, you know, a citizen who, you know, caught my eye, sort of. I mean, you know, I saw his long neck and I saw the plait round his hat. Then he started to, you know, rave, at the chap next to him. He was, you know, treading on his toes. Then he went and, you know, sat down. Well, you know, later on, I saw him in the Cour de Rome. He was with a, you know, pal, and he was telling him, you know, the pal was: ‘You ought to get another button put on your coat.’ You know” (85).
Haiku “Summer S long neck plait hat toes abuse retreat station button friend” (139)
Recognizing Style Queneau’s examples show a few of the choices writers have for expression of ideas. The style of each author is distinctive. Even we amateurs have styles of our own. We may write more formally to a stranger, more casually to a friend, for example. We may prefer some words and carefully avoid others. We may opt for special sentence structures (as I just did with the three parallel sentences above beginning “We may.”) Each writer establishes his or her own manner of expression. Some writers are so unique that their writing is almost instantly recognized, just as the symphony of a particular composer might be.
Parody of Style For several years now, amateurs have been encouraged to enter contests parodying the style of particular writers. Two easily imitated writers, because each has such a distinctive style, are William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway. Here follow two examples from contest winners:
William Faulkner Pile OnKnowing knows before hearing hears, recollection exudes from the congealed entanglement, emasculate in the indomitable odor of mansweat; remembering before knowing; hands splayed on bended knees, semicrouched in rapt immobility, forwardleaning into the ponderous nocturnal autumn air, in furious anticipation of arrested inertia, incipient savagery, luminous in the brooding dusk-dark; forwardmoving preemptorily with the sound, an inviolate sonorous command, refusing abnegation, compelling allegiance, doomed in the primordial obdurate masculinity; receiving the thrusted leather oblong not-trophy, neither chalice, but rather palpable symbol of insatiable honor, impregnable, invincible but ephemeral; viscera thrusted, arms engulfing as a lover's embrace, but futile; forwardmoving with escalating fury inexorably toward the armor-clad foe, nonapparitional, voracious, implacable, intractable, incorrigible, and girded for the assault in resplendent triumph; arrested in stark, abrupt and utter abrogation of motion, profound dissolution, sudden and complete; and now cohered with the hard, immutable earth; with the penetrant whistling infiltrating through the laboriously unlimbering extrication of virile man-flesh to the abject fury of disembodied surrender; and then, with resolute, authoritative finality, the hearing: "second down." -- Robin Blake, Winner of the 1998 “Faux Faulkner” contest
Ernest Hemingway TWO AND A HALF STARS Inside Harry's Bar & American Grill I shook the rain off the way a dog would shake the rain off if dogs were allowed inside Harry's Bar & American Grill, or if I allowed myself the use of metaphor. But they do not, and I do not, and this one must have been a stray. The place was crowded and full of smoke and people smoking. At the bar three men in uniform were linking arms and singing war songs, and the air was thick with the smell of wet leather - or else Harry had hired a new chef. The men were boys, really, too young to remember old wards and too short to ever think that their knees could be targets and not just something to sit on and lap dance. The place was crowded and there were no empty tables. A forceful looking girl sat alone at a table near the kitchen. . . . "May I join you?" I asked the forceful girl. "Only if you are famous," the forceful girl said. "I am a well-known food critic," I said. "I am here to review the food for the Star." "Kansas City or Toronto?" "I do not remember, but that's not important. What is important is the atmosphere, and I give it three stars." "Not four?"
Hemingway continued "No, there are tourists here, and they are not aficionados. Let us order wine now, and appetizers, and Pasta Fatta in Casa, and wine." "You already said wine." "You can never have enough wine." Soon a waiter came, and though he was clearly troubled by nada he asked what we would have. I told him, and the forceful girl said she was fully capable of ordering by herself. Then there was a shout and the singing stopped and the smoking stopped. "Get down," I told the forceful girl. She struggled, but I held her down for her own good. It was going to be bad. The tourist with the flit gun had made the mistake of squirting the oldest waiter, the one who had gone 84 days now without getting a tip. I got down on the floor beside the forceful girl. Everyone in the room waited to see what would happen. Suddenly our waiter appeared. "I am so sorry," he said. "We are all out of Pasta Fatta in Casa. Would you care to order something else?" "No," I said, and removed another half star from my notebook. "Kansas City or Toronto?" the forceful girl asked. "It does not matter. Especially now," I said. -- James Plath, Harry’s Bar & American Grill 1999 Hemingway Imitation Contest
Writing about Style and Tone Style conveys an author’s tone, or attitude toward the characters and events of a story. The two are inextricably linked. In writing about style, consider diction (word choice), sentence structure -- pattern and length -- punctuation, imagery, sound, or figures of speech. Tone conveys the author’s feelings. How might an author’s style, then, show tone?
Works Cited Kennedy, X. J. and Dana Gioia, eds. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. New York: Longman, 1999. 137-141. Plath, James. Queneau, Raymond. Exercises in Style. Barbara Wright, trans. New York: New Directions, 1981. “Style.” A Handbook to Literature. Holman, C. Hugh and William Harmon, eds. New York: MacMillan, 1986.
CREDITS • Developed and prepared by Dr. Linda Lovell • NorthWest Arkansas Community College • http://faculty.nwacc.edu/ljlovell