Friday, July 10, 2009

Copying others to find your own voice?

Happy Friday all! Not only is it a bee-you-ti-ful Friday weather-wise (bring on the sun!!) but it also happens to be my anniversary. 13 years with my awesome husband! *sniff* The traditional 13th anniversary gift is lace, for those of you who do that sort of thing.

And yes, that is my husband whooping and cheering in the corner. (He won't be nearly so happy when he unwraps that package of doilies.) He likes this year better than, say, year 7 which is the wool and copper anniversary. That was an easy year for gifts. Steel wool anyone? And it came in so handy for that pot where I got involved writing that fight scene and forgot I was steaming carrots... *Note: I didn't really get him steel wool, but wouldn't that have been an *awesome* idea?!

So, on to something writerly...

I stumbled across a blog that talked about putting your personality in your writing. The blog was talking about business websites, but one thing in particular struck me. The post mentioned figuring out how to put your personality in your writing (or, in author-type terms - find your voice) by writing in other people's voices.


(The italicized stuff is directly from the blog, which I will link to at the end of this post.)

This is a trick artists do. When they learn to paint, they paint in the style of other great artists. By studying how other people paint, you'll pick up some of their techniques. You incorporate what works in your style and abandon what doesn't. And by studying other people's styles, you'll start to be able to break down your own style, and thus you'll understand how to strengthen it.

My first college major (yes, there was more than one) was in commercial art, which is graphic design, etc. mainly for business and advertising. I chose commercial art because, frankly, I wasn't a spectacular "artiste." I couldn't whip out the paints, chalk, pastels, or whatever, turn to a blank canvas, and produce some fantastic artistic masterpiece from thin air. *But* I was very good at coming up an idea and then finding bits and pieces from places and copying them into a pretty good work of art.

*Aside: There was one kid in my art classes in high school that was an amazing "artiste." But he always came up with stuff that was just...well... weird. My art teacher used to comment that we should work together--I could come up with the ideas and he could do it with flair. Neither of us was too thrilled with that.

So, I wondered if maybe there could be something to this idea of copying other people's writing.

You can use this for your writing. Here's how you do it: First, choose a writer whose style resonates with you. Next, copy a passage they wrote word for word. You might want to do it a few times. Then write something original, but do it in their style. Keep practicing until writing in their style becomes second nature. But this should strictly be an exercise. Don't try and copy other people's writing styles and pass them off as your own. Not only will it come across as inauthentic and more likely turn off your target market, but depending on what you do, you could end up in legal trouble.

*See the entire post at 5 Ways to Add Personality to Your Writing.

As I've been wondering if I should give this idea a try, I think I may have discovered one of the problems I've been wrestling with on my WIP. As I brainstormed authors that I like and that I'd like to copy I realized that all of the ones I come up with are not the style I thought I was trying for in my current book.

You see, I'm writing a dark story with some scary and potentially disturbing things. So I thought I'd write a dark book. Plus, dark topics & writing are the rage right now.

Good idea, right? Maybe not so much.

The truth is, I'm not a very "dark" person. Any of you who've spent any time with me probably agree. I crack jokes. I'm a little clumsy and run into things. I'm sometimes goofy (okay, often goofy). I don't emote and ponder on the horribleness of life. Yes, I listen to some darker music, but not for long periods of time. I dance around my kitchen to techno. I'm a sun worshiper. I don't like dark chocolate. I love the movies "So I Married and Axe Murderer" and "The Princess Bride." And I don't even *own* black nail polish.

I'm not sure I can write a dark novel.

But maybe I can write about a dark topic, with a character who tries hard not be dark and disturbed despite what is happening around her. Yes, maybe I can do that.

As for the writing exercise, I haven't tried it yet. But soon.


Kimberly said...

Very thought-provoking, especially as my main struggle has been to find my "voice" as it were.

And the book you described at the end there? I'd totally buy that book.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

The book Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon has some exercises that deal with this topic. It's a great book.

ElanaJ said...

This is an interesting topic. I think I do this on an unconscious level to some extent.

And you don't like dark chocolate??? Dude, I don't know if we can be friends. Just kidding! It's the differences that make the world go 'round. *grins*

L.T. Elliot said...

Very thought-provoking post, Jaime. It makes me wonder about how well I could do trying to "test the waters" of different voice types. Would I improve my skills? Hmm. Great, great post.

Kristi Stevens said...

I'll forgive you for not loving dark chocolate. But no black nail polish? How in the world are you going to go Emo? Maybe you should start off a dark phase with dark brown nail polish. Don't worry about the dark chocolate. Just send it my way. :)