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?

Inspiration

Inspiration can come from anywhere. It can come from the way a cloud moves across the sky, reminding you of  a puppy chasing it’s mother through the sky, trying to catch up with her. It can come from the way your morning cup of coffee smells, the rich and heady aroma of it rising into your nose and awakening your senses. It can come from the old man you saw on the street who was struggling with his shopping bags and grumbling under his breath about the youth of today.

Inspiration can come from your favorite books, movies, radio-shows and music. You can copy and steal from every written word ever published without anyone being the wiser, because on the way to your finished work you changed everything you meant to steal. Your inspiration can carry you past plain copy-and-paste into the land of borrowing from lyrics, ideas, symbols, and generalized characters. You can decide to copy the tale of Aladdin’s Lamp and end up writing about fog in San-Francisco – and even then you might be positive you stole the whole thing.

Inspiration can be slippery. It can hit you when you’re in the middle of a conversation, when you’re driving, when you’re about to fall asleep – as a result, you’ll lose the ideas, and kick yourself for it. It can also strike you just when the pen is in your hand or your hands are hovering over the keyboard.

Inspiration can be a bitch, and desert you for days at a time.

Austen-Esque

After spending every free moment of the day reading “Sense and Sensibility,” I found myself unable to resist the urge to try to write the sort of passage that might find itself in a Jane Austen book. I’m sure I haven’t succeeded very well, but there’s something irrationally enjoyable about trying to write in such a manner that you must hear the words being read aloud in your mind or you will not understand quite how the sentences end.

While it is true that the estate of Mr P was not large, it is also true that it was spacious enough for him, his wife, and their two young daughters, to live in comfortably. So they did, and while Mr P spent his life working hard in various positions involving sales, he managed to live without worrying about yearly income and without ever needing to trouble the minds of the women of his house.

Mrs P was by nature a peaceful woman, always cheerful, even in the depth of the great aches and pains which afflicted her in older age. She was an excellent example to her daughters, both of which grew up to be miraculously practical and intelligent women. The eldest, Amanda, was educated well and supported herself by her pen. She did, however, make the rather scandalous choice of making a second marriage, even after her first was dissolved mutually by both her and her cold-hearted husband. Her second marriage, by which she provided Mr and Mrs P with two grandchildren, it was agreed by all, was much more successful.

The younger of the sisters, Miranda, was always the more rebellious, and although she might have vexed Mr and Mrs P by her scandalous pursuits at one point in her life, she eventually became a source of pride to her family, for she was free in mind and in spirit in ways which the new world found becoming and agreeable, and even profitable.

While both Mr and Mrs P met untimely and early endings, their daughters kept up a steady stream of correspondences and remained the greatest of friends, even after needing to sell the estate which they so loved. Although deeply regrettable, the selling of their beloved Flora estate was nevertheless an unmatchable help in both the sisters’ lives, for both, headstrong and independent as they were, led quite modern lives and needed funds to keep these in order and comfort, as they aspired to do for many years to come.