I can't remember where I had read it, but somewhere in Christopher Hitchens' catalog of essays is him saying that good authors usually begin by copying a better one, and then developing from there. He had chosen, probably for the best, Orwell's style.

I looked over the questions on this site and found no satisfying answers. How does one specifically copy a better author's style? As an example, I would like to write more like Christopher Hitchens. Not exactly like him, as I find that he has the habit of using too many useless, replaceable words, and that he tends to sneak in foreign words.

How would one analyze the writing style and then copy it? (I'll leave the developing up to me.)

3 Answers 3


I think native speakers of the same language can generally develop a good ear for variations in language and achieve passable mimicry of a specific person without an explicit analysis, but that's very hard to teach.

However, I've always found that in all creative endeavors some deliberate analysis makes the identifications of patterns so much easier and therefore easier to imitate correctly. Look for the patterns that reveal an author or creator to be a product of their time and culture, and also what sets them apart.

For example, if you wanted to write music like Bach, it would be good to understand the basics of Baroque music theory, including the limitations of the instruments at the time, the musical scales predominantly used, and the typical rhythms you might hear. Then you would need to know that he is a master of counterpoint, using two contrasting melodies that also harmonize with each other. If you wanted to paint like van Gogh, you should have a basic understanding of Impressionist painting (using distinct brushstrokes or patches of color in combination to evoke an image, in contrast to blending to make the strokes disappear into the realism of the image; accurate depictions of light and color at different times of day was often emphasized), but also know that he painted rapidly, with wet-on-wet, thickly textured, often long brushstrokes of bold color, not blending the colors so much as juxtaposing them to create the vibrant effects he achieved.

Start by looking for technical analyses that have already been written:

Some people have already done this work for you! Reading critical and technical analyses of that writer can be incredibly helpful, if they exist. You are more likely to find these as academic studies of poetry, rhetoric (analysis of famous speeches, particularly), and works considered to be "classics" or masterpieces than you are for very recent authors.

If this intrigues you but you're not having luck with your own author specifically, you can do some digging to identify similar authors and try to find analyses of their work. If you strike out there, too, you can look for technical analyses of any author in the same genre or even the genre itself and see what people have to say about them. This will give you a baseline of related works for comparison and contrast, and it will make your writing and also imitation that much stronger. But that's a lot of work that won't get you all the way to where you want to be. You ultimately need to have or do a study of your selected author.

Do your own analysis:

A more efficient approach, especially if you are already familiar with some aspects of analysis and can't find much on your author, is just to do your own. I'd argue that it would be best to do this AND study someone else's analysis, because it will help you internalize those differences, catch things you might have missed, and make sure you are accounting for details the author of the previous study didn't report on.

Read widely in the author's oeuvre, and consider reading some books by other authors for contrast. All the while, keep coming back to a list of questions about their styles, and note what stands out (including things that aren't on the list!). This worksheet list is a very good starting point: Analyzing the author's craft/style. Another thing to look out for, not mentioned in that list, is unusual repetition of certain words or phrases within a work (Kurt Vonnegut and Toni Morrison do this for different effects).

Some analyses can get much more data-driven, including identifying where verbs tend to fall in the sentence structure (especially in languages where the syntax doesn't strictly dictate word order), and how many words per sentence/sentences per paragraph/letters per word/words per chapter the author prefers. This is more helpful for tasks like identifying or authenticating the author of an unsigned work than for your purposes, but it might help you identify differences in pacing. (or if you were trying to be so authentic as to convince people that it could be real you would want to consider it).

Test yourself:

Try writing a passage-- a paragraph or chapter-- that has a very similar structure but perhaps different subject to one that you find exemplifies the author's style. If it's a tense scene from a thriller, cast different characters and give them a different goal. Then go back to your notes about the author and see if they apply to your passage. If not, what needs to change? If the humor doesn't seem right, maybe do a deeper analysis of the types of humor or jokes they write. If the scene drags, see if your author conveys information with fewer sentences, or pushes the tempo with short words.


good authors usually begin by copying a better one, and then developing from there. He had chosen, probably for the best, Orwell's style.

I agree with the statement that good authors usually begin by copying a better one. In fact, I have done exactly that.

There was one time, back in 2008, I submitted an application to a "literate" role-playing forum. The forum had high standards of its own writers/role-players and graded applications by writing quality. Rejected applications meant that the user could not participate in the forum; accepted applications meant that the user was just accepted; and WOW! applications meant that the user went above and beyond than expected in the quality of writing. Basically, I achieved a WOW! application, and I did so by copying the writing style of another WOW! applicant.

How does one specifically copy a better author's style? As an example, I would like to write more like Christopher Hitchens. Not exactly like him, as I find that he has the habit of using too many useless, replaceable words, and that he tends to sneak in foreign words.

Exposure. You have to be exposed in that author's work, of course.

How would one analyze the writing style and then copy it?

Take a look at The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne. You can read a ready-made analysis that someone else has written. A literary analysis would usually have some kind of thesis - the point of it all. The thesis may focus on a theme or some kind of topic. That is how you write a literary analysis.

In regards to improving your own fiction writing style by mimicking the work of another, you may take a look at the sentence structure. Hawthorne begins with "A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bare-headed, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes."

A group of chattering women, in flowery-patterned dresses and brunette curls and tresses, holding babies and the hands of little girls, some pretty and feminine, and others tomboyish and masculine, was formed inside the hall of the church, the walls of which were decorated with stained-glass windows and children's crafts.

  1. Replace the original author's words with your own words.
  2. Imagine the scene. Does it make sense?
  3. Continue with the next line. Keep doing so until you get the hang of the author's writing style.
  4. Take a break from the writing project, and re-approach your work with a fresh pair of eyes. Is there an interesting character? What do you think the plot may be about?
  5. Jot down some notes pertaining to the trajectory of the story.
  6. Continue writing in this style. Use the original author for inspiration.

You need to have a keen eye for the types of words that are chosen, as well as how they're strung together, and then go on to things like punctuation and sentence length. Is there a lot of description used? Is it mostly conversation? Is there slang or humour? What emotions are evoked, and what kind of an audience would likely like or dislike what's being read?

For instance, you use relatively short sentences, with basic words, and you like the use of commas. I'm somewhat deliberately trying to match the way I'm answering this question to the way that you asked it. Although, as is often the case, I may not have been entirely successful.

While this is a good start, what you really need to do is write a paragraph. Then, look at it and think about it. Does it sound like the other person? If not, then ask yourself why not. It may not need to sound exactly like the other person, but things you like about the other person should come across. Similarly, if there's something you don't like, then leave that out of your own work.

Generally speaking, or so I've found, once you can get into a rhythm in a few pages, or even paragraphs, the way in which you find your speaking becomes somewhat natural. And it's easier to keep on going. It's like acting, or so I've heard, where you learn the mannerisms of a character and put yourself in their mind. You pretend that you're the other person doing the writing, and you ask yourself what they would write next.

P.S. My apologies if I ended up characterizing you in my attempt at trying to match your writing style. While the content of what I wrote was my own, it wasn't framed in a way that I would have naturally used on my own—and it may have been an example of poor execution rather than anything clever on my part. It's a truism that you should often do as other people say, not necessarily as they do.

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