Style Aping

I’ve fallen deeply in love with Virginia Woolf lately. I’m generally enamored of the classics that I read, if only because the kind of writing styles that existed in the 17th, 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries are so utterly different from the contemporary books I read. This isn’t a bad thing, as far as I’m concerned, because writing, like everything else, changes over time. Language changes, mannerisms change, people look and speak differently… So even though human nature probably hasn’t changed all that much at its core, stories about people are definitely going to sound different at various points in time.

Virginia Woolf has a beautifully unique writing style – in my opinion anyway – and I feel that she loves language just as much as she loves people. Yes, I think she loves people in general for being so different, versatile, strange, quirky and interesting. I truly believe that nobody could write the way she writes without loving the process of writing, even if it caused her much anguish and hardship. However, that’s not even the point, because much as I find her a fascinating person, I want to write about her style right now. That style, in my view, is distinctive. There’s a very stream-of-consciousness feel to it, although at the same time there’s a calculating purposefulness to it, a feeling that the writer knows and understands so much more than her characters do and that she, in looking at them from above, is smiling down at their thoughts and hearts that are laid bare to her. It’s beautiful, self-conscious but at the same time utterly abandoned – I don’t know how Mrs. Woolf achieved this duality in her writing or if she was even aware of it, but it’s beautiful.

A week or two ago, I read The Hours by Michael Cunningham. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes Virginia Woolf, although I would say that you should read her Mrs. Dalloway before reading The Hours. In certain, well-chosen, parts of the book, Cunningham manages to copy Virginia Woolf’s style beautifully, to its smallest details, while still keeping the plot and character fully immersed in late 20th century New York City. The man, in my opinion, is an incredible writer. The fact that he can mimic Mrs. Woolf’s style so wonderfully, while also giving other characters their own distinct voices, makes me admire him no end.

Now I finally come to the question this whole post was about: what do you think about copying a writer’s style? Personally, I think it’s interesting as practice. I feel myself trying to do this whenever I finish a book I particularly enjoyed, and I have fun with it. There’s something challenging about writing according to specific rules and trying to adhere to a very distinct atmosphere. It’s not easy, but it’s also a very different feeling than trying to find your own voice or a character’s specific voice. Still, I don’t think that I’d ever try to write something long or substantial while mimicking another writer’s style, unless (as in the case of The Hours) I was doing it purposefully and obviously.

So… What are your thoughts on this?

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5 thoughts on “Style Aping

  1. unabridgedgirl says:

    Woolf is still one of my favorite writer’s to date, and every so often I try to copy her stream of consciousness as practice. I think it’s great to adapt another writer’s style for practice, only in hopes of finding what does and doesn’t work for you – if that makes sense?

  2. I think it’s a great practice. I used to try this with my students. We had a week and each day we’d read someone and then try to emulate their style. I think in doing this – you find what works for you and what doesn’t.

  3. I also enjoyed “The Hours!”

    I agree that it can be helpful to emulate others for practicing purposes ONLY. Otherwise, if you let more than seep-in to your writing, you might lost your own voice in the process.

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