Sixty second writing tips: writing in the style of…

One of the hardest things writers face – even if everything else is on par – is that last detail of the art; the style. The actual choice of words.

1197094932257185876johnny_automatic_books_svg_medThese are what clothe the skeleton of structure, of content; they give a particular feel to the writing. It is the style –the choice and pattern of words – that makes a particular passage an author’s own.

Mastering style – having control of the words – is as important as any other aspect of writing. It’s also remarkably difficult to master.

So try this. One of the ways music composition is taught is to write something ‘in the style of…’ – forcing the  student to figure out just what composers such as Rachmaninov, Debussy, Bach and so forth actually did in order to get their characteristic sounds. (Last year, I watched 70s prog-rock icon and all round British comedian and musician Rick Wakeman play, live, a string of nursery rhymes “in the style of” these composers. Cool.)

It works for writing, too. Try it.  Pick your favourite author. Look at the way they’ve assembled the words – at the pacing, the vocabulary, the organisation of the sentences, the tone. Make notes. Then try it yourself. It’ll be slow at first, lots of trial and error – but after a while you’ll be able to write ‘in the style of…’

I’m not suggesting such pastiches should become your real style. You have to find your own voice. But working out how other people have done it takes you a long way towards doing that – and towards discovering a good deal more, often by surprise, about how others have done it.

Do you ever try writing ‘in the style of…’?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013


20 thoughts on “Sixty second writing tips: writing in the style of…

      1. Thanks, Matthew. I know exactly what you mean. I have read all, or nearly all, of H.E. Bates’ books – a true master. His sensitivity to beauty and character is amazing. I just love him! And I think after a very long time my style has become similar. I have based my latest book on his style.

  1. Great tip. I guess the extreme of this is that fan fiction is now actually taking hold as a successful genre in it’s own right. I hate to be down on any successful writers – but that does make me a bit sad!

    1. To me, a lot of fan fiction is stuff not actually written ‘in the style of’, but simply taking somebody else’s ideas and concepts and copying them. Often this is not very competent. I draw a distinction between this and the exercise of emulating another’s style (but not their ideas) in order to improve your own, necessarily distinct voice. But I absolutely agree, the popularity of ‘fan fiction’ is kind of sad – again, I think the onus is on writers to create their own ideas and so enrich both their own world and that of their readers.

    1. Thanks. Only on a small scale though – let’s say 00 gauge… 🙂 After which it’s essential for the author to find their own voice. (I cannot believe I just wrote such an abysmal mixed metaphor…)

  2. This is a new one for me. I can think of a couple of my favorite authors where this would be fairly easy. However, I can see the benefit of this exercise. At the rate we are going, If winter contiues for another month, I can do this exercise instead of putting in the garden. 😦

    1. I find it a great learning technique – though no more than that. For myself, I always admired Asimov – an absolute clarity and simplicity of expression – which I have tried to match (but not imitate) in my own writing. Sometimes his style was just a bit too plain vanilla.

  3. Really enjoyed this post. As a painter, I love this practice as well–imitating a master, forcing myself to concentrate on every square inch of his/her composition, forcing myself to copy colors, lines, contrasts, to the last detail. If I stay with this master long enough, I will pick up some of those tricks, but will no longer be an imitator, but an emulator, because I have found my own voice, which includes some of the master’s signature. Cennino Cennini wrote a book in 1400, using those “imitator” “emulator” notes to instruct apprentices. Thanks for posting this.

    1. Thank you – yes, this technique absolutely works across all the arts. And after a while, emulation is mastered and becomes innovation. I find the links between the arts fascinating; as I mentioned in a comment above, to me music and writing are the same thing. And that’s true, too, of painting; I recall a Monet exhibition I attended a while back where it became very clear that he was ‘capturing the light’ in order to evoke a mood; and what is that but the essence of the artist, whatever their medium?

  4. I found my writing voice through reading other authors. For me it was ‘resonating with a rhythm’ rather than mimicking what others have written. I’ve actually heard well published authors suggest you go so far as to type novels written by authors you admire, word for word, to learn their method for construction and style. I have not gone that far. But I have read certain books several times (over a period of years), to internalize their rhythm.

    1. Absolutely! It’s all about resonating with their rhythm – understanding, not copying. I hadn’t heard of the ‘type it out’ method for learning, I can see how it would work. Good thought, but yeah, seems a bit extreme. I think the use of ‘rhythm’ is apt too – to me, at least, music and writing are very much the same thing in terms of what they are trying to address and do – as in, grab the reader/listener and take them on an emotional journey. There’s a lot of cross-pollenation in technique. (And I have to say, Wakeman is an absolute master of the ’emotional journey’ technique – came out very clearly in the concert he gave).

    1. I think it’s a good learning tool, though no more than that. The onus is on writers to find their own voice, though they may find inspiration for it in the writing of others. Commercially I think a natural ‘own voice’ – and distinctively so – is essential.

  5. I like it! I tried writing a short story in the style of JK Rowling, and I think it came out pretty well. It sounds nothing like me, but imitating her style was definitely a fun and educational experience 🙂

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