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I come from a non-native English speaking country and, from my own analysis, I will say I have an intermediate level English fluency (IELTS score 7). Some of the articles on my blog were chosen by an international magazine (free of course). But now I am writing a novel.

The way we normally speak English is, of course, different from how it's spoken in native English countries. So the writing style for narration also is different. I have read a few novels from local authors and their (and my) style is really much different from the authors whose genre I aspire to write. For example, Elizabeth Gilbert, J.K Rowling, Dan Brown, Robert Ludlum.

I have read the books on writing style suggested by Stephen King, and other good books suggested online. My writing fits the description of the usual things but, still, the style based on spoken narrative is way different.

It's very difficult to invent my own style which can match their styles, but I am trying to imitate their writing styles. The stories are different; I just mean the style.

I think it's easier and will be acceptable to a large audience.

So my question is, what are the advantages and disadvantages of copying the styles of established authors?

  • Could you be more specific with what you mean by "writing style"? – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Jan 24 at 16:33
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    @Galastel: Seems pretty self explanatory.... You know how the average painters copy/mimic the masters, or how the average composers do the same? Well you can do the same thing as a writer... And the advantage is, you can have produce something passably ok. The disadvantage is, you will never be a master.. – ashleylee Jan 24 at 16:44
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    I think taking inspiration from another established author is something every writer does whether that inspiration is from the story or the style. Unless you match them too closely I can't think of a disadvantage – BKlassen Jan 24 at 16:47
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Style isn't something you can copy in this way.

Plot, character descriptions, turns of phrase, are all things you can copy enough to get in trouble for it (either legal trouble or trouble from your readers). Style is more of a way of doing things. Not a thing itself.

It would be saying, is it okay to copy how a singer you admire sings? And yes, it is. Because no matter how good of a mimic you are, you will never be that person. You could even work as an impersonator, and that would be perfectly legal in the right context.

Nor are writing styles specific enough to steal. One writer might use short terse sentences and another flowery prose. One might prefer a page filled with SAT words, another might use a newspaper style. Others might use uncommon styles like communicating in telegrams or writing in text speak.

So go right ahead. As long as you aren't copying ideas (or plot or characters or names), you are probably just fine. Your personal style will come through as you merge it with the ones that inspire you.

  • Thank you this was encouraging gave me a spring board. – White Cloud Jan 25 at 3:53
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    Just like with painters, it can be a great practice exercise. You can also experiment with telling one person's story in the style of someone else. So imagine what would be different if (using examples named) Stephen King wrote Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets? You can even look at "It" to see how he handles teens and underground scenarios, but what would make Tom Riddle feel like a Steven King character, not JK Rowling? Or make It's Clown feel like a Dark Wizard, and not Evil in a specific child-appealing form? (Been a while since I read King.) – April --Un-Slander Monica-- Aug 8 at 14:17
  • I rarely disagree with you, @Cyn, but I find this headline misleading. Because people do copy other people's styles all the time, both intentionally and intentionally. – Chris Sunami Aug 8 at 17:21
  • @ChrisSunami I meant it in the sense of it not being plagiarism. Yes, people can imitate style, sometimes very well. I was trying to make a distinction between the two. Also because style is a way of being and not a tangible thing, like copying pages from a book. But I hear you that it could have been worded more clearly. – Cyn says make Monica whole Aug 8 at 17:28
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Inspired by @ashleylee, but then I was going into even more detail.

I think this CAN lead to being a mastery, but not if one ONLY copies ONE creator. It's a good learning tool, but studying more styles gives one more options on how to approach any scenario.

Sometimes it may just be from immersion: I'm on an Arthur Conan Doyle non-Holmes kick right now via librivox.org , and that leads to my writing in a more formal style than when I am mostly reading online articles.

Sometimes it is direct imitation, just to see HOW did they do it?

If someone's writing handles an area well you have trouble with, study and imitate how they do it, then ALSO see how others do it. Like if you feel there's no "chemistry" between your own characters, find a few Romance authors who have that spark. Maybe first imitate one of them in having your characters meet. Then find a second author, and imitate that one closely. See what was similar or different. Maybe bring in a third romance one, maybe try for something from another genre that also has good character connections.

(Often TV Tropes, though it's a time-sink, can help you identify the tropes (or narrative tools and expectations) that are being used, if you can find your Template Story in there. Or it can give you others to contrast with: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BoyMeetsGirl and https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MeetCute ) Just remember: tropes are not bad, they're tools. Other writers also developed their tools, and there are a lot of ways to do so.

If you learn well by taking something apart to put it together again, imitation can be an excellent way to gain that understanding of writing.

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Imitating styles is a valuable learning tool. That's the advantage. And most of us take on at least some aspects of the style of the writers we admire whether we want to or not. But at the end of the day, you'll need to find our own style and your own voice. Imitating styles can be a step in that direction --it will expand the number of tools in your writer's toolbox--, but it shouldn't be the final destination. When you sound like someone else, you don't sound like yourself. And that's the disadvantage.

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Something nobody has yet mentioned: you might want to write your story as a tribute to another work.

For example, Neil Gaiman's A Study in Emerald is a tribute to Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. It is in the language, the style, the way the story is told. At the same time, it is unmistakably Gaiman: Conan Doyle could hardly have been a fan of Lovecraft.

Or, a different example: Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, with its language, style, snark, even the illustrations, working hard to imitate Jane Austen or something else of that period.

It has been remarked (by a lady infinitely cleverer than the present author) how kindly disposed the world in general feels to young people who either die or marry. Imagine then the interest that surrounded Miss Wintertowne! No young lady ever had such advantages before: for she died upon the Tuesday, was raised to life in the early hours of Wednesday morning, and was married upon the Thursday; which some people thought too much excitement for one week.

If you can write a tribute that is recognisably in the style of the author you wish to write a tribute to, think of it as a gift from an admirer. What are the advantages of writing such tribute? the intertextual connection enriches your work, it is your way to say something new while at the same time remembering and respecting the old. It allows you to explore the existing work, find the things that make it unique, and employ them. You get to intimately know that particular voice, while at the same time saying something that is uniquely yours. You get to hold a conversation with an existing work.

As for finding your own voice, don't worry about it too much. Eventually, you will. Or rather, you find the right voice for the story you are currently writing, and then the next one, and the next, until it turns out that you have a voice that is your own, a sort of commonality between the stories you tell.

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