Here are three things I’ve learned about style from Charles Dickens:
1. Antithesis is a useful tool for subtle character development.
Antithesis—contrasting ideas by means of parallel arrangements of words, clauses, or sentences—can help to suggest what a character is thinking, not only about herself, but also about another character, as in this example from Great Expectations.
“So new to him,” she muttered, “so old to me; so strange to him, so familiar to me; so melancholy to both of us!”
Polysyndeton—repetition of conjunctions in close succession—can get readers’ attention by adding emphasis where needed and by making the story flow more quickly and smoothly into a key part of the plot. Here is an example of polysyndeton, also from Great Expectations. Notice how the repetition of the conjunction “and” picks the reader up and carries him along.
A man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head. A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and glared and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin.
“O! Don’t cut my throat, sir,” I pleaded in terror. “Pray don’t do it, sir.”.
Personification—the representation of a thing or idea as a person or with human characteristics—is an elementary rhetorical device, but Dickens’ expands it and uses it to get readers to focus on a particular item, like these Spanish onions in A Christmas Carol.
Ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Onions, shining in the fatness of their growth like Spanish Friars, and winking from their shelves in wanton slyness at the girls as they went by.