I liked this quotation in Julia Reed’s review of Annie Dillard’s new book in the New York Times Book Review last Sunday:
Shelby Foote once wrote to Walker Percy [about Chekhov's works]: “How he does it is a mystery you can’t solve by analyzing it — he just does it out of being Chekhov.”
I think this is a nice summary of what I would call “style.” It’s everything from the words the writer uses to the way he arranges them to the facts he chooses to highlight or play down. It’s the perspective we’re given on events and characters and even the opinions we’re encouraged to have (or not to have) about them. It includes conscious and unconscious choices with regard to all of the above, but all those choices must match or mesh somehow into something that is believable and capable of evoking genuine emotion, and yet leave much to be figured out and always something (or more than one thing) that can’t be understood.
And works that have all that? They are what I call “literature.”