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The skill in imitation

One somewhat controversial thing I believe about writing is that it's very good to be able to imitate other writers' styles. Other writers and scholars thereof might disagree, failing to see any practical application for it, and protesting that it's more important to refine and develop your own unique voice rather than trying to copy someone else's. (You often hear that argument when people denigrate the writing of fan fiction.) But I maintain it's not only good practice, it's actually a skill worth having for its own sake.

Voice is an important aspect of writing, as it influences mood, feel, tone, and style. But I think an author shouldn't necessarily be limited, or limit themselves, to only one. As nice and useful as it can be to have a signature style, I think it's good to be able to adapt your writing to sound different for different pieces, or even for establishing different characters. If you don't find some way to be flexible that way, you run the risk of making everything sound the same no matter the feel of the piece you may be going for-- or worse, you make everything sound like you, which I find to be a sign of immature work. So imitating the sound of other writers' styles and voices is an exercise in developing your flexibility. It requires you to stretch yourself beyond your natural impulses or current artistics strengths in order to create something that sounds like someone else's work, which broadens the possibilities for what you're capable of depicting. It gives you more control over the voice you give any one project, and enables a wider variety of feels and effects you can impart to your work.

This for me ties into the appeal of fan fiction. I know not everybody is this way, but both when I'm reading and writing fan fiction, I'm looking for more of the story I already love, with more of the things I love about it. So I'm drawn to pieces that stylistically capture the soul of the original. That also means that when I'm writing it myself, that's what I'm shooting for-- something that believably feels like it could be part of what's canon. So I make a special effort to study and emulate the way the original material is written in my fic. The best job I ever did at this was with my piece for the BBC radio comedy Cabin Pressure. I wrote basically a script for an additional episode of the series which, after the fashion of its idiosyncratic episode titling system, I called "San Tropez". Cabin Pressure has a very specific, British style of humor with characters who have highly distinctive voices, and I worked very hard to capture them. If I may say so, I'm really proud of how good a job I did. I've gotten a number of comments from readers saying I nailed the style and voices exactly, and that it's both funny and extremely in character.

But not only do I think it's just good practice for increasing flexibility in other projects. I think it's actually a useful skill in its own right. For collaborative projects, particularly ones that run for a while and have teams of writers, being able to fit in with the "house style" is essential. I have dreams of someday writing for television, and writers' rooms have to have some degree of cohesion to make all the episodes feel consistent with each other. People tend to notice when the "voice" or "style" of a television show gets inconsistent or deviates from what is established, and reactions are usually disapproving. Sometimes it's even at fault for what people describe as Seasonal Rot. In that case it would be a necessity for me to be able to adapt to a certain voice that may or may not naturally be mine.

So it's more than just an amusing little "party trick" for writers of fan fiction. It's actually a powerful developmental tool for a writer to expand their toolkit, and sometimes even demanded by a collaborative situation to keep the pieces all cohesive. So I like challenging myself to play in someone else's sandbox every now and then.

Posts from This Journal by “writing” Tag

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
laurion
Mar. 18th, 2017 01:16 pm (UTC)
Love Cabin Fever. And I think you did get the voice of it very well. Hadn't read your fanfic before.

I think there is value in being able to emulate another's voice, yes, for the reasons you specify. But not to the degree that it completely stifles ones own voice when doing so. I think it is also important to be able to take a work in your direction, and to include your voice, the more so the longer you are the one giving the voice to the work. But emulating well is a good way to transition between voices. I think the writer not only has the right, but sometimes the responsibility, to stamp a work with their vision and style, if done in a way that carries the audience along with it instead of leaving it behind.
breakinglight11
Mar. 18th, 2017 03:08 pm (UTC)
Aw, thank you! I'm flattered that you read it! ❤

And there is definitely a danger of letting it stifle your own voice. You don't want to never have something that is uniquely yours and not ruled by influences. But it's a skill I definitely like to have in my trickbag, if only for that transition period so you don't yank a project away from itself without a natural evolution.
in_water_writ
Mar. 23rd, 2017 07:33 pm (UTC)
I think versatility is always a useful skill, and being able to be flexible with one's voice, and being able to mimic another's voice, can be quite useful, for all the reasons you list. I think also an essential skill if one intends to write a scathing satire of anything. I think being able to mimic someone accurately, whether in writing or in behavior or in voice or anything else, is just a form of being able to read people well, a form of "putting yourself in another's shoes" and asking "what would so and so say next?" I always think flexing that muscle is useful. Personally, I find it a form of using imagination and empathy, two things I think are always useful to keep developing.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

About Me

My name is Phoebe. I'm Boston area theater professional and English professor focused in writing, acting, directing, and modeling. I'm known for having lots of interests, lots of opinions about those interests, and a very high estimation of the value thereof. This blog is for talking about whatever's on my mind, from my daily life to my activities to musing on any number of abstract topics. Thanks for taking the time to read.

My productions:

Upcoming Productions:



MRS. HAWKING part 2 and 3


at the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2016

presented by The Chameleon's Dish

Vivat Regina
by Phoebe Roberts

at 2PM

and

Base Instruments
by Phoebe Roberts

at 6PM

Saturday, May 13th 2017
at 274 Moody Street, Waltham, MA

Other Achievements:

"The Tailor at Loring's End" screenplay
Quarter Finalist in the Final Draft Big Break Screenwriting Competition 2013

"Adonis" screenplay
Top Ten Percent in the Bluecat Screenwriting Contest 2015

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