Writing Assignment: Copy A Style

by Randy Murray on July 1, 2011

One of the best ways for an artist to practice a craft is to emulate the style of its masters. It’s harder than it sounds. You have to do more than just copy surface attributes. You have to understand how they do what they do, what makes it work, and why it affects you. As you practice and emulate different artists, you’ll discover your own style.

Musicians work this way, and in their early careers they’re often labeled as “a young Charlie Parker” or “the new Jerry Lee Lewis” (we still have the old one, by the way, no need for another). Some never grow out of copying and fade away, but others develop their own sound, their own style, and become the models for future artists.

For writers, it’s particularly easy to fall into copying great writers and that’s a perfectly cromulent way to practice one’s craft. Write a piece like Jane Austin or Ernest Hemingway. Write like Edgar Allen Poe or Arthur Conan Doyle. Try Vonnegut or Capote or Greene. I dare you. It’s much more difficult than you might imagine.

I, for one, have been reading my favorite books from my favorite author, Patrick O’Brian. These novels are masterworks, set in the early 1800′s, and are stunning pieces of exposition, setting, character, and language. Many compare him favorably to Jane Austin (and the setting is the same period as she wrote in and about). I find that as I lose myself in these books that his style creeps into my own. It’s fun to try and see how the language works in practice. And it’s damned difficult.

For today’s assignment, select one of your favorite authors and write a short piece using their style. You do not have to use their subject material, just their personal style. For example, write a short piece about preparing a meal using this appropriated style.

This is a good assignment to repeat as often as you can.

You may leave your completed assignment in the comments section below.

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Writing Assignment: Copy A Style by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Sam July 1, 2011 at 6:07 pm

Hello, Randy. First I must say I that I’ve enjoyed your style for some time now. I have a couple of thoughts to share with you.

First, an experience with music that I think is closely related: When I was in high school, I went through a period where I listened to Kansas quite a bit (read: every time I was in my car). It wasn’t until many months, maybe even years later that I realized I had incorporated the style of their drummer into my own playing — in particular the use of flams in tom fills. So, while I’ll listen to just about anything once, I’m picky about what I’ll listen to again, since it seeps into how I play.

These days, I work for a photographer, doing all sorts of creative stuff. One of my duties is to edit his blog. While he is a master of his visual medium, his command of the English language isn’t what he’d like. Me? It’s in my blood. My dad’s a newspaper man and his mom was an English professor. I’m not the most deft with my words, but things like grammar and spelling have always come naturally to me. My challenge when editing is this: I want to correct grammatical errors, spelling, and punctuation, as well as make my friend’s words flow; however, I don’t want to make it sound like I’m writing, and I don’t want to be his ghostwriter. So, over time, I’ve grown to know his style (and him, through our friendship) and have become more capable of emulating him whe writing. When I’m writing elsewhere, I’m just me (I don’t think I’ve picked up any flams — yet).


Randy Murray July 2, 2011 at 11:13 am

Recognizing style in others and how it influences you is the first step. It sounds like you’re well on your way to establishing your own strong style, uniquely your own.

Thanks for sharing!



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