An author’s style is unique and will vary (whether large or small) from person to person. Although style may seem a simple concept, a literary style is impacted by many different factors, including word choice, phrasing, the use of dialect, and attitude.
An author’s word choice lends insight into the author himself, as well as the purpose of writing. Using formal language, for instance, suggests some amount of distance between the author and audience and typically creates a hierarchy with the reader at the bottom and author at the top. Conversely, more relaxed, simplistic language is indicative of a desired connection with the reader and creates a friendly, welcoming atmosphere, with a book acting more as a conversation between the author and audience.
Phrasing is similar to word choice, but involves more grammar and the flow of sentences. In a formal piece, the phrasing is likely to involve technical jargon and may contain more complex elements of grammar, including long sentences and uncommon punctuation. In a work of fiction, an author might use phrasing to create poem-like atmosphere, creating a cadence within the body of a text that is not unlike a poem regardless of its presentation. Short, staccato phrasing is common in children’s books and instructional pieces, as this allows the author to provide information in a simple, forward manner.
Dialect is the manner in which someone speaks. Someone in the southern United States, for instance, has a distinct and easily recognizable dialect, while someone from Washington state might not be as readily identifiable. Some authors use this to their advantage, readily identifying themselves (or their characters) by the way they speak through using region-specific phrases (“bless her heart”), or having characters speak with modified English (“she lives on the moun’ain”).
The author’s attitude will inform the overall style of a piece, but may vary from piece to piece. Some authors are fond of the use of satire, for instance―a medium which requires a sarcastic, somewhat condescending view of the subject matter. An author whose attitude toward a subject is overwhelmingly positive will reflect this in his/her work through positive or optimistic phrasing. An author who has neither positive nor negative feelings toward the subject matter will likely speak in informal, dispassionate phrases, allowing the audience to decide how they feel without interference.
There are three different types of Point of View (POV) and within those three types are two subtypes. These include: first person, second person, and third person. Third person can be split into two subcategories: third person limited and third person omniscient.
The two most common points of view used are first person and third person limited. The others are certainly used with regularity, however, and all may be identified with these simple guidelines:
First person POV writes from the perspective of one person, using “I” and “we.” The character is telling a story through his or her eyes and functions as the narrator.
Second person POV is uncommon, as it addresses the audience directly, using “you,” and typically puts the action on the audience (you walk to the door and open it, etc.).
Third person limited writes from the perspective of one person, but uses a narrator other than the character of focus. It is limited because, although the narrator is not the main character, the narrator is limited to seeing the thoughts, feelings, and actions of the main character.
Third person omniscient does not focus on a single character, but is able to identify and detail the thoughts, feelings, and actions of all characters.
Some parts of the test will require you to make inferences or synthesize information that is not necessarily stated. The most common types you will encounter are satire, sarcasm, irony, and understatement.
Satire is used to criticize an idea or even an entire society through identifying the foolish idea, action, or behavior in question and humorizing it to make a point. If you wish to satirize a political system, for instance, you might utilize animal characters to illustrate the potential foolishness of politicians.
Sarcasm is typically used to express disdain or irritation toward a subject―though it may also be used purely as a humorous mechanism. Sarcasm can be difficult to identify without being able to hear the speaker’s tone of voice or see the speaker’s facial expressions. To identify sarcasm, look at the context surrounding the word or phrase in question, and see if the particular word or phrase goes against the established attitude. For instance, the author might stack all of the proverbial cards against a single character. If, suddenly, another character begins to praise that character, you can safely suggest the character is being sarcastic.
Irony is similar to sarcasm, in that irony uses one word or phrase to say the opposite. In a larger context, irony can be seen in the story, “The Gift of the Magi,” wherein a man sells his watch to purchase beautiful combs for his wife―who has just cut and sold her hair to pay for a watch chain for her husband.
Understatement is, again, similar to sarcasm. Understatement undersells (or understates) an issue, leading the audience to believe an issue is less than it is. Understatement is often used tongue-in-cheek, or as an inside joke, of sorts, between the audience and the author.