Imitation, Influence and Style

ShelfCandy27Do you still read while working on your own stories? I have been told more than once not to, it being easy to fall in love with someone else’s style and have it bleed, however unintentionally, into your own writing.

On the one hand, reading lots of other material is the best way to discover just how many different ways to write a story there are, and which one most suits you. On the other, there’s nothing quite as unsettling as realising that the reason you like a draft so much is because the voice isn’t so much your own, as the author whose novel you enjoyed reading the other night.

I find myself quite good at imitation and enjoy picking up someone else’s characters and messing around with them a little. My favourite creative writing exercise they had us do at Uni was writing a short passage, in a secondary character’s point of view, of an event in the novel we’d be studying. It’s a little lazy, in some respects, to write material using another author’s framework, but it is good practise. And writers need more of that than most professions.

But as I spend my time researching for my Camp Nano novel and looking for inspiration as I write, I wonder just how much of Gaiman’s, Pratchett’s or Eddings’ style is obvious in my own. I love their work; the humorous voice of their narrators and the iconic depth in their world building. I would like nothing more than to be compared to them one day (a high aspiration, but for a writer an ego is a must – we’d be mere husks without one) but is it at the risk of my own style?

I suppose what I’m asking is what makes a writer’s style their own. What is it that makes a passage recognisable as one author’s work compared to another’s?  Imitation may indeed be a great way to pay respect to a writer you adore and a good opportunity to experiment with different narrative forms and first/third point’s of view, but how far should it encroach into your own work?

With so many novels we’ve read and enjoyed, is it even possible to pinpoint where the work of other writers may have influenced our own? And is it a bad thing at all?

5 thoughts on “Imitation, Influence and Style

  1. Personally, I think it’s very, very useful to continue to read while working on your own stuff. It’s often difficult for me to be objective while I’m in the midst of writing, and I frequently find myself thinking things like “is this a clumsy sentence? Does this break the pace of the paragraph? Is this description too cheesy or pretentious?”. When that happens, I find it useful to read for a while just to remind myself of what works and what doesn’t.

    This does tend to make my first drafts a bit imitative, but I can always fix those later.

    Obviously, this is just me, and I’m a very inexperienced writer. I’m not saying “this is how it should be and if you’re doing it differently YOU’RE WRONG”.

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    • I have to admit, despite working on my NaNo novel I have just reread Neverwhere. But I’m not sure there was any chance in me going without reading anything for a month. I suppose I do subconsciously avoid reading books I think may be too close to the theme or style of whatever I’m working on, though as you said it’s still a good way to work out what works, especially within a certain genre.

      I think my main worry is that people who would want to read my work will have likely read the books I have as well, and I wouldn’t want to throw ideas at them they’ve seen so many times before.

      Everyone has their own way of getting into their project I guess!

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      • Excellent choice – Neverwhere is a great book (I assume the TV series is, too, but I’ve never watched it).

        Stephen King once said that after reading Lord of the Rings in his teens, he was tempted to begin his own fantasy series, but decided to hold off because if he didn’t, it would end up being too obviously similar to Tolkien’s work. So I suppose one should be careful to not be -too- influenced by what one is reading, if one can help it. I think it’s a bit of a double edged sword, when it comes down to it.

        At any rate, I hope your NaNo novel is going well. :)

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      • It is, though in my opinion the latest radio adaptation is the best, the cast is stellar!

        Stephen King always has the relevant wisdom when it comes to writing (I really need to finish the Dark Tower series). And who doesn’t feel that way after reading LotR?

        It’s going slower than I’d like, I’m now playing catch up and probably will be for the rest of the month but it is coming along which is more than I’ve ever managed before. Thank for your comments, as always! :D

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      • I haven’t heard the radio version. I’ve been meaning to give radio drama (if that is the correct term) a serious listen, but I’ve never really gotten round to it. I should, though, at some point (most non-committal statement ever, I know).

        The Dark Tower is one of my favourite series (though it isn’t without its flaws, as many people will happily tell you). I haven’t finished LotR, myself – I’ve read Fellowship, but that was years ago and I’d probably have to read it again. I’m a bad reader, I know D:

        It’s all too easy to fall behind (real life and writer’s block are dreadful things). So good luck, and keep it up =)

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