So, I’m back.
For the first time in almost a year I am blogging.
Lots to catch up on but will never do that in the space of a single blog post. But suffice it to say, I have been writing regularly, in mostly the short story format. I have also recommenced redrafting my novel and it is going, but only barely. I have become a regular member of Cork Creative Writers Group and have found the gang there have become a great source of inspiration and reflection as I go forward.
So back to it.
Imitation is seen by many people as a cheap enterprise or a poor way to become better at something. Why don’t you be yourself, some ask? Find your own voice and stop trying to be someone else.
But Ms Brande greatly disagrees.
However, to clarify, she is talking here about the technical nous of other writers and closer examination of ‘a passage…which seems to you far better than anything of the sort you are yet able to do…’
We then tear this passage apart ‘word for word’ and attempt to compare it to something similar in our own work and in doing so recognise the smooth transitions our imitated author uses to do the things that we handle less expertly. I have begun to do this with some of Kevin Barry’s work (oh look its him again), namely the short story ‘Party at Helen’s’. I have so far maybe read it a dozen times and at least six of those with a pencil and this has revealed many things that I would not have noticed as a causal reader.
The main one of these is how organic that story seems in its opening pages. There is also the way in which the story knits each character into the flow of events so deftly, which is really worth reviewing. And, I guess the really intimidating thing was his use of particular words in certain sentence that hit so perfectly. There is lots I can learn from him and I have maybe half of that story copied out in order to get even more intimate with it.
Brande also talks about the word count and how it can be used to realise that a good writer ‘has a just sense of proportion.’
And yet, the next section is concerned with how to spend words. She writes that you can give the wrong section of your story too much attention whereas the more capable writer will she it more evenly or target what will make the story better. I am thinking of a lot of the different versions of my work where I could really review this.
There is also a lot to be said for her comments on ‘Counteracting Monotony’. By reviewing those we are to imitate we can see (with good writers, at least) a beautiful music to the sentences and the rhythms that may not always be present in aspiring writers work. I have noticed that a lot of the organic rhythms to what I write is often lost in my edits as I hack away at the language and don’t build up to certain things or link two things together too quickly. But if I am honest, cadence and such is not always something I am conscious of when I read and this is perhaps why it is necessary to get closer to what I read.
On page 109 there is an outstanding exercise on getting better at this particular aspect of writing by inventorying the number of words in each sentence and furthermore the syllables ‘the fourth [word] is an adjective of four syllables..’I have seen this practice suggested a number of times in a different manner and to my shame it is not yet something I have attempted.
She closes the chapter with a piece on fresh words and how to watch out for what some disparagingly call ‘vivd verbs’, which basically refers to the importance of uniformity of tone and language within the particular piece. An example of this incongruity was revealed to me at a recent meeting of our writers groups when someone spotted it in the following except:
‘I rattled in the oul username and password that still worked even in late July. A strange orthodoxy of language taunted and aroused those tiny bulbs. Hard-drives stuttered and burped.’
How I didn’t notice this the first time around is amazing to me now. I have a sentence, thought, in a casual vernacular that then seeps into a sentence that uses the word ‘orthodoxy’.
But I continue to learn, and there is much to absorb.
Yours in Writerly Imitation,
Ciaran J. Hourican