There is a box that is writing. Some things you must adhere to in order to write a good story—intro, body, climax and conclusion. Constructing a setting. Developing characters. Making the characters visible. The box pretty much ends there.
What is done outside of the box is the style or format in which you write the story. The aggressive or non-aggressive tone in which you proceed. When you write a novel, it is such a massive work that you will force yourself to write or think of ways to follow a story in a way you’ve never done before. And if you don't do these things, then that means you fought yourself back into the box.
HOW I STAYED OUT OF THE BOX
Here are a few examples from my book: I didn't want to use the “he said/she said” after every quote, or even after any quote—so I didn't. Whenever there is dialogue, I just made the quotes into a line by themselves. I do, however, keep the reader informed of who is talking (without using the redundant attribution style of “he said/she said”). Here is an example:
It's rather rundown, but Catch's is one of the more frequented bars in the city. Always packed. The red and white paint job nearly makes it resemble a barn. The number of animals inside on any given night also give it that similarity.
Most people know how to get into Catch's without looking. The one, dull bulb at the entrance wouldn't help guide the way even if you did look.
“You think Catch’ll ever get a new light?”
I looked at the door, but it was just Sleeve’s laugh emanating from his massive body that was making it shake.
“He can’t afford one. Spending his money on other bright ideas.”
Sleeve’s a bit smarter than most give him credit for. For a brute with a knack for keeping people out of Catch’s, he knows his way around a meaningful conversation.
“That hurt getting all those tats?”
He got his name for getting his whole left side tattooed.
“Only when it got here.”
I didn’t need to look. Common sense said to change the conversation.
“Zips and Sketch inside?”
“Got a bit of questioning?”
Another testament to him. That’s probably his best asset. He knows not just how to listen, but what to listen for.
“Just a bit.”
Without my wallet, which Sleeve informed me I didn’t have, I couldn’t get in. Not that a missing wallet was ever a problem. But his decision was made more for his employer than for me. Guesswork would have suggested a fight to break out if I did find Zips and Sketch in there.
“Stick with it though. You’ll find the worth of your time.”
A point of his finger that covered most of my forehead told me that standing away under a streetlight would be more suitable for him. Sleeve was always helpful, but intolerant of thought process, so he made my decision for me.
A stench met me under the dark light. As did patience.
It's not anything huge, but it was just a little bit of my own style coming out. Something different I wanted to put in there.
SAY PLENTY WITHOUT SAYING ANYTHING
Something else that had me get outside of the box was understanding my character's surroundings. My main character is a criminal and he lives in a city where evil is everywhere. I had to place myself in that city and write and use words that I rarely would use—speaking or writing. I didn't want to sell my reader short, but at the same time I didn't want to get carried away with it. Often, I just let the reader think of the words a character was saying. For example:
I had no plan, but I needed to get one’s attention in the worst way.
Everyone is close to their mom in this city. I’m close to mine so I know exactly what would get me riled up. If someone insulted my mom the way I did the suit's, I would have tried my hand at his face too. Lucky for me these boys are simple. Punch and don’t think.
I didn't do this in every case, obviously, but just in the cases where there was the opportunity or where it seemed like a better idea than spelling it out.
YOUR READER HAS AN IMAGINATION
In many cases, letting the reader come to the conclusion is the best way to go about it. Don't think that your reader has no imagination. Not everything has to be spelled out. If you don't spell something out, make sure you aren't leaving the reader hanging and wondering what really did happen. The lack of description or information should still never leave the reader with questions—they should be able to answer what happened even without receiving a word-for-word account from the writer.
DON’T BE AFRAID OF STYLE
So, don't be afraid of your own style—hone it! Don't be afraid to take some risks to see what works. Not everything will. Something I was told on my first draft was that the reader can't see what I see. I definitely had to go back and add more. Be sure to give plenty of detail. Every writer, however, has their own version of how much is “plenty”.
If you're still looking for your own style, by the time you finish your first novel you should have found it or at least almost.