Friday, July 20, 2007


Imitation....emulation is not the same as stealing or plagarism; never confuse the two. There are many authors that I admire for their trademark qualities--their signature. I have learned that there are no authors I can't learn from, even if it is what NOT to do. There ae many I "steal" from routinely, including E.B. White, Dean R. Koontz, Martin Cruz Smith, Mark Twain, Alexander Dumas, Conan Doyle, even Shakespeare on occasion--when the story calls for "To be or not to be" for instance--an indecisive character asking if he should or should not "off himself" with the "bare bodkin" in hand -- or rather the Glock in my story.

The careful writer is first a careful, discerning reader, and if the chapter in Charlotte's Web on the Rope or the Barn opens with the melodic language of farm life and you need that kind of melody to describe a moment in time in the life of your character, as when he or she reflects on childhood--and you don't have to re-invent the wheel because E.B. has done it for you, then by all means use the ready plug or gift that White provides on those pages by emulating and imitating his "style" for the section of your story that calls for it.

I use this page on White's Rope and the Barn it is in in my writing classes, and I run a contest, and the winner is the one who most eulates White's style in his or her attempt to describe some special place in childhood. Then they are asked to do the same with some special object or thing and to imitate the page about the swing rope in the barn. I can't tell you how much confidence this gives my students after they have done the finger exercise of imitative writing. Erma Bombeck, Janet Evanovich, stretch then to use what the "mastrs" can teach you. The next contest is to write in th "voice" or style of one's favorite author and keep the name anonymous so the class and teacher can take a stab at who is being imitated.

Recently, I have begun a new novel. I have used White again when it was called for. Have used Koontz and even Hemmingway (an easy guy to imitate) when the story called for a hammer blow.

If my students were in an art class they'd be painting the masters, learning from the masters, imitating the great artists before they can paint in their own style. This technique is a wonderful tool for young writers. It begins with reading a passage from a master and asking, "How'd he make me believe the unbelievable? How'd he make me cry? How'd she make me laugh? How'd he make me think that?

Good writing and good luck,
Rob Walker

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