Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Inspired by other authors' styles

I was reading query letters online, and found one for an epic fantasy. I always check those out, but in this one, the writer had mentioned a famous author who was first published in the 1970s. She said she enjoyed his books so much that she wrote in a similar style.

The writer tried to head off critiquers’ concerns by saying that the author’s books were still bestsellers—which they are. But when I read her sample pages, the concerns were justified. The style wouldn’t have been out-of-place at all in the 1970s, but compared to a lot of more recent fantasy novels, there was over-explanation which contributed to the slow pacing. The dialogue tags were heavy on the said-bookisms and adverbs, which have fallen out of favor.

It struck a personal note, because when I first started writing, I was inspired by Richard Adams’ style. So I decided to have snippets of verse at the start of each chapter, just like those in Watership Down.

Thankfully, even in my salad days I had some idea of copyright, so I made up my own verses which would reflect something of the plot in each chapter. This might still have worked if I’d kept the poetry short, but at best these were four to six lines.

Plus, let’s just say I am not a born poet.

That being said, there’s nothing wrong with admiring other writers’ styles and wanting to achieve the same effects. But this works better when we don’t take that style on board wholesale.

Instead, identify different elements of the style and see which ones work best. I love Jack Vance’s imagination in his Tschai series, and I try to capture the effortlessly inventive, otherworldly flair of his descriptions when it comes to clothes and food in my fantasy novels. But I wouldn’t copy his characters’ uniformly stilted way of speaking.

And some books may sell because the authors are very well-established in a genre, rather than because their styles have kept up with modern trends. For me, the nostalgia factor comes into play when I read certain older books, and because they’re older, I’m willing to overlook problems in their style. But books published these days—where there’s orders of magnitude more to read than there was in the 70’s—don’t have that buffer zone.

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