Take for example, this first paragraph from Halldor Laxness' novel WORLD LIGHT:
"He was standing on the foreshore below the farm with the oyster catchers and purple sandpipers, watching the waves soughing in and out. He was probably shirking. He was a foster child, and therefore the life in his heart was a separate life, a different blood, without relationship to the others. He was not part of anything, he was on the outside, and there was often an emptiness around him. And long ago he had begun to yearn for some indefinable solace. This narrow bay with its small blue shells and the waves gently rippling in over the sand, with the cliffs on one side and a green headland on the other--this was his friend. It was called Ljosavik."
Here is my preliminary attempt at style writing this passage:
"She was sitting on the sidewalk outside the gallery with her art supplies and a glass of wine, considering the cars flashing past and past. She was definitely procrastinating. She was a visual artist, and therefore the focus of her mind's eye was often a court jester, an unreliable prophet, without loyalty to reality. She was not consistent in her approach, she was in a slump, and there was a mountain of inspiration threatening to topple on the horizon. And lately she had repeatedly failed to push herself past her own implosive uncertainty. This brick sidewalk with its antique clay rectangles and crumbling cement curb staving off civilization, with the highway moving toward the future and the building's facade encasing history--this was her buffer. It was called Success."
I tried to keep it simple and not edit it so much that the original became hard to identify. Not great writing, but I think you can see what I am trying to do here. Admittedly this is perhaps the most extreme way to approach this assignment.
Another approach could be to engage with the text in a less structured way. For example, the Laxness text could be analyzed as having the following movement: The author begins physically with the character's location in isolation by describing the setting. He employs several gerunds. He contrasts "with" and "without". The movement is outward to inward, or physical to psychological. The paragraph ends with a naming.
Another way to utilize the text is to count the words in each sentence and use that as the basis for a prose poem. You might arbitrarily choose a subject from a magazine or from your journal. Even if you don't do this, the counting of the words is an interesting way of examining sentence variation. Here are the word counts for this paragraph:
23, 4, 24, 19, 12, 34, 4
Or consider this pattern from one line to the next:
-19, +20, -5, -7, +22, -30
It almost lets you graph the style.
This is my paragraph created by counting words:
"Evaporating little by less, we are caught over and again, reluctantly below the sky, below the waist, yet somehow our earthly clothing remains dry. And we are ashamed. From one end of the visible world to another, the tops of watery curls fall, each as weighty as a breast, crested, yet undemanding. And never still, the thin, green bodies of dark, top-heavy blossoms quiver. We suffer this calamitous parting of self from self from self, but in our inchoate madness, we are saved from time by grace, soon to be only pale promises, faint, reinvented lines and spaces. Much simpler than truth."
I noticed a lot by doing this: word choice, repetition, elaboration and concision.
And then with a little editing, it might become a poem:
WHEN I THINK OF TOUCHING YOUR MOUTH
Evaporating little by less,
we are caught over and again, reluctantly
below the sky, below the waist,
yet somehow our earthly clothing remains dry.
Why are we ashamed?
From one end of the visible world to another,
the tops of watery curls fall,
each as weighty as a breast,
crested, yet undemanding.
And never still,
the thin, green bodies
of dark, top-heavy blossoms quiver.
We suffer this calamitous parting
of reason and logic from self,
but in our inchoate madness,
we are saved from time by grace,
soon to be only pale promises,
faint, reinvented lines and spaces--
much simpler than truth."
If I approach style writing with the up/down/neutral exercise we have used in our group, you get:
How would it change the form if I arbitrarily switched the last line to a "positive," you know, just to make a happy ending?
What if you wrote a poem or paragraph that fit this pattern? You could simply use this format to create something new. Perhaps just think of it as six sentences that would fit this analysis.
Yes, these are somewhat silly ways in which to look at a piece of text! And yet they are designed to get you writing, and to make you look at the writing of others in different ways. It is a process that allows you to make something that didn't exist before you played with this paragraph. In a way it is the harnessing or channeling of creativity.
"Finding your style is like putting puzzle pieces together."--Lara Spencer