All About Style for AP English Language
What Is Style?
Ask yourself a question—What is the difference between the comedy of Bill Cosby and Eddie Murphy? We would all agree that they are both funny, but we would also say that each man has his own style. What makes Cosby's comedy different from Murphy's? Consider the following:
- Subject matter
- Language (diction)
- Selection of detail
- Presentation—body language
- Attitude toward his material
- Attitude toward his audience
This is what we call style. You do this all the time. You know Jennifer Lopez has a different style than does Barbra Streisand.
If we were to give you two literary passages, you could probably tell which was written by Hemingway and which was written by Dickens. How would you know? Simple, you would use the same principles you considered with the two comedians:
- Subject matter
- Selection of detail
- Point of view
- Figurative language/imagery
See how easy it is? The AP English Language and Composition exam expects you to be able to recognize and to explain how these elements function in a given passage.
How Do I Talk About Style?
You need to understand and to refer to some basic writing terms and devices. These include subject matter, selection of detail, organization, point of view, diction, syntax, language, attitude, and tone.
What follows is a brief review of each of these elements of style. In this review, we define each device, cite examples, and provide practice for you. (In addition, we have incorporated suggested readings and writing for you.)
Subject Matter and Selection of Detail
Since these two are dependent on each other, let's look at them together. Unlike the poor, beleaguered AP Comp student who is assigned a topic, each author makes a conscious decision about what he or she will write. (In most instances, so do you.) It is not hit or miss. The author wants to make a point about his or her subject and makes numerous conscious decisions about which detail to include and which to exclude. Here's an example. Two students are asked to write about hamburgers. One is a vegetarian, and one is a hamburger fanatic. You've already mentally categorized the details each would choose to include in making his or her points about hamburgers. Got it? Selection of detail is part of style.
Note: Many authors become associated with a particular type of subject matter: for example, Mario Puzo with organized crime (The Godfather), Steven King with horror and suspense (The Shining), Upton Sinclair with muckraking (The Jungle). This, then, becomes part of their recognized style.
Think about a couple of your favorite writers, rock groups, singers, comedians, and so on and list their primary subjects and selection of details.
The way in which a writer presents his or her ideas to the reader is termed organization. You do this every day. For example, look at your locker. How are your books, jacket, gym clothes, lunch, and other things arranged in it? If someone else were to open it, what conclusion would that person draw about you? This is your personal organization. The same can apply to a writer and his or her work. Let's review a few favorite patterns of organization.
Writers can organize their thoughts in many different ways, including:
- Specific to general
- General to specific
- Least to most important
- Most important to least
- Flashback or fast-forward
As with your locker, an outside viewer—known here as the reader—responds to the writer's organizational patterns. Keep these approaches in mind when analyzing style. (You might want to make marginal notes on some of your readings as practice.)
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