The Contagiousness of Style

Sam,

Just FYI to start, I’ve borrowed the title of this post from a book I read freshman year of university: Becoming A Writer by Dorothea Brande. The chapter includes a paragraph that is relevant to a writer’s sensitivity to outside influence.

In the chapter, Brande challenges the writer to read any author of choice (but who has a strong personal, recognizable style) and keep reading until the writer feels the slightest bit fatigued or shortness of attention span. Once this happens, get to writing either your current project or any random free-write. Now compare the most recent, author-influenced piece with some previous work. “You will find,” Brande said, “a definite difference between the two. You have insensibly altered your own emphasis and inflection in the direction of the author’s in whom you have been engrossed. Sometimes the similarity is so striking as to be almost ludicrous” (139).

Brande nails this topic on the head. I know for a fact this phenomenon is full-proof because it’s happened to me countless times.

With the Harry Potter series, Jo’s style of writing makes me write more fluent dialogue, full of subtext and intrigue. It’s the kind of high minded language found in almost every conversation written with Albus Dumbledore. At these times, I find my characters say things I don’t realize I know until I write it. Quite a time for character development if I say so myself.

With A Song of Ice and Fire, George’s style of narration persuades me into composing richer descriptions of action, dress, and settings. If I ever need to decide whether or not I want to write a story with more description or leave it up to the reader’s imagination, I pull up George on my Audible APP and sit back to listen to his bountiful prose. In addition, George’s dialogue tends to make the exchanges between my characters more amicable, like you might walk into a pub or feast hall and have a pint with them as they talk.

These are two clearly distinct styles taken away from some of my favorite authors and stories. Can you think of any times you write or think in a different rhythm after you’ve read a story that sticks with you?

Do these tendencies to deviate from one’s true style mean one should never read books again while working? Not necessarily. I think as one goes along the writer’s path (which can take many years), one will find how they really write and even come to master flip-flopping from style to style at will. Such expertise is acquired one; by writing, writing, writing and two; by gaining confidence in one’s abilities. Confidence can come by either outside support or by trusting one’s imagination and its potency.

Contagiousness from style is an excellent learning tool for experimenting with voices that are already telling stories, so those whose voices have yet to be heard can develop and find their own, unique ones. I catch myself calling back into this mimicking now and have to re-evaluate how I can make it my own. The most important shovel to divert the flood of style is consistency. Consistency in prose will not only make it easier for you to tell and keep track of your story, it will also be easy for readers to enjoy the tale and give you the goggles through which to spot times when you catch the bug of style-mimicry.

Cheers.

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