Lab: Painting With Words

An Exercise in Style & The Art of Writing With Your Heart

I believe more and more every day that the magic of fiction comes from painting with words.  Books on writing outline rules to the craft. Courses on writing are taught by breaking the art into small segments: style, craft, and mechanics. We have discussed the craft here at length here.

In summary, craft is the diligent practice of writing. Mechanics is the knowledge of the language. But what about style?


One of my favorite artists was Thomas Kinkade. Some in the art community deeply criticized his work. Some may still argue his work is not art. I choose to say it is. Thomas Kinkade painted lovely scenes, scenes filled with curving beauty and dancing light. Many loved his work and nearly everyone in the United States has been touched by a Thomas Kinkade painting; they have been made into postcards, calendars, and printed over and over again. There was simple beauty in his work. But most important, according the the artist himself, there was light.

Contrast Thomas Kinkade with Picasso. Picasso clearly shows more mastery than Kinkade. His blocky twisted figures and bold modern colors. He bent art itself to his very will.

Consider Monte, and how he changed the way we see art, filling the canvass with pixels of paint, confessing his style in dabs of colors.

What I’m talking about is style, is art. I see the same type of “artistry” in fiction. Critics know this as well. They can read J.K. Rowling and know her style anywhere. Stephen King and Dean Koontz might try pennames, but at the end of the day, their style confesses the true writer.

The same is true in Music. Mozart sounds like Mozart, Erik Whitacre sounds like Erik Whitacre, and Taylor Swift writes music that can only be Taylor Swift. This same truth is manifested in sculpture, quilting, fashion, etc. It is style!


Where does style come from? I am currently reading Kate DiCamillo’s new book, Flora and Ulysses. And as I read it, I cannot help but think, Oh this is so Kate DiCamillo. There is a girl who loves an animal who’s parents are divorced and the girl is particularly attached to her father…. Need I say more?

A writer’s style is how they place words and themes to the page. Thomas Kinkade sought light in his paintings. Kate Dicamillo seeks hope. Walt Disney sought a happily ever after. Style therefore comes from who we are. It comes from the very fabric of ourself. It is more than just sentence structure and length. That is style to be sure. It is a small piece of what style really is. Sentence structure, run on sentences, poetic turns cannot by themselves move a reader. True style dwells in the heart. It comes from our very self, what we know to be true. And like a forest spring, style bubbles up from the heart of the writer and causes the hand to press a truth upon the canvass of the page. Monte painted in short dabs. Why did he do that? His heart told him to. And his heart moved the hearts of millions.

The way we write is often a reflection of our need to communicate what we think. It is who we are: our voice, our speech pattern, our worldview, our beliefs, our histories, our past.

“Our everything is what our style is.”

Remember that there must be an arm to move the brush, and that arm is connected to a brain, and that brain is filled with unique and priceless and one of kind matter.

The same brain that moves my fingers to type is the same brain that learned how language works from my parents and friends and community. My accent comes out in my writing. My speech pattern is betrayed. My brain confesses it. And just as Daniel Bernstrom dresses and talks and acts a certain way, so also will I write a certain way. This is style.


So, when we paint with words. We join the host of artists that are driven by the what lies in the closets of the brain. And our words paint grand murals upon the mental walls of our readers. Our style will be apparent. We might write about the same things, but we must allow our hearts to go where it desires. Only then will our style paint moving pictures in the hearts of our readers.

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