4 Reasons to Mimic Other Writers—and 3 Reasons Not to

Successfully mimicking other writers does not mean copying their words, plagiarizing them, or stealing from them. Rather, it boils down to nothing more or less than learning from their techniques. It’s a gift that keeps on giving, since in mimicking the other writers, we’re not only respecting their talent, we’re also gaining untold benefits to share with our own readers. Let’s take a look at how (and how not) to successfully mimic other writers

What We Learn From Studying Other Writers

1. To Set High Goals

By desiring to write as well as our favorite authors, we’re forcing ourselves to set the highest of goals for our own writing—instead of settling for any ol’ drivel that dribbles from our pens.

2. To Achieve Good Taste

In choosing to mimic a particular author, we’re establishing a definitive statement about our taste as readers. We’re deciding what makes a good writer and, therefore, what kind of writer we want to be.

3. To Study the Craft

We can’t mimic other writers unless we first study them. To be able to achieve the same desirable effects in our writing, we first have to be able to identify and understand those effects.

4. To Achieve Growth

The very act of mimicry means our writing will be moving ever upwards and onwards. Even a failed attempt of mimicry is one that will help us understand ourselves and our craft better.

How Not to Mimic the Masters

1. Don’t Plagiarize

Learning from someone else’s style or technique may be a compliment, but stealing their words or ideas is most certainly not. Aside from the fact that it’s unethical and illegal, plagiarism will never give you much in the way of satisfaction or artistic growth.

2. Don’t Be Lazy

The desire to write like another author does not give us the excuse to use their stories as half-baked starting points for our own. Fan fiction aside, writing a story that is a feebly disguised copy of Star Wars or The Hunger Games means you’re missing the point—and the benefits—of using another artist’s genius to launch your own unique story, style, and voice.

3. Don’t Give Up

Sometimes attempting to achieve the same effect as a masterful author can leave us feeling like we’ll never measure up. Don’t forget that even the masters had to start somewhere, had to be inspired by other artists, had to grow into their own place of excellence.

How to Mimic Other Writers

How do you successfully mimic other writers in a way that will help you learn their secrets while aiding you in discovering your own unique and personal artistic nuances?

1. Read Widely and Deeply

Start by reading everything you can get your hands on. When you find authors who make you go I want to write like that!, read everything they’ve written, both the good and the bad.

2. Read With Attention

We’ve all heard the phrase “read like a writer,” but what does that really mean? It means reading with eyes that see beyond the story, behind the scenes to the techniques that make it work. Once you’ve cracked an author’s code, you can apply the secrets to your own work.

3. Copy Out Passages

Sometimes it’s helpful to take the above step a little further by actually copying out excellent passages from your favorite books. The act of writing each word down can help you understand the choice of language and the structure of the sentences and paragraphs.

4. Experiment With Similar Styles

Mimicry only works if you put what you’ve learned into practice. Did you enjoy the first-person present tense style in that last Margaret Atwood novel? Why not give it a try in your next book. Did you love the rapid-fire action scene in that latest Brandon Sanderson book? Try throwing your characters into the midst of a mano-a-mano duel in the next chapter.

In a nutshell, mimicry is nothing more than reading, appreciating, and learning from the masters. As artists, there is no better way to improve our own craft than to fall in love with the excellence of someone else’s.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Who’s the last author who made you think I want to write like that? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Patrick Rothfuss… When I read the first two books in hs King Killer series, I was blow away. Every word on the page had a purpose and a meaning to the story. I remember thinking that this man is more than just a writer, he is a word smith.

  2. Stephen King. I have been on this huge King roll. I sit down to read thinking “OK. only character intro and description, thats all I am going to look for.” Next thing I know I have plunged through 100 pages just because his pace is that good. In between I am reading Virginia Woolf. There ARE similarities.

    Fantastic post, as always. I learn so much from you.

  3. Great post on a topic that fascinates me. I’ve always found it sad when I read or hear writing coaches say don’t mimic or copy a great writer, try and find your own style because you need originality. What nonsense.
    I like Hemingway and try to write like him but I will never write exactly like him, I will always be original because I did not work in the First World War as a medical orderly, or live in Paris in the Twenties, or fight in the Spanish Civil War and I don’t like bullfighting. I know most of the ‘rules’ attributed to Hemingway but I use them in my way with my words chosen from my experience. I can’t hope to copy Hemingway exactly but by trying, I believe I am improving my writing.
    Imagine a piano student being told to stop playing Mozart because they need to develop their own originality or a soccer player being told to stop copying how Beckham can bend the ball in flight or a painter being told to stop trying to paint like Picasso or Turner. We learn from the Masters by mimicking them, but whatever we produce will always be original. If beginners are told to be original from the start they may never progress because they are missing out on so many things that great writers could teach them.

  4. @Micki: I’ll second you on that one. I’ve only had a chance to read the first one so far, but… wow!

    @Donna: Reading a particular author for a particular technique is a great idea. If you get sucked into the story, so much the better!

    @Christopher: I went through a Hemingway stint of my own years ago. It didn’t last, but I learned a lot from it.

  5. Markus Zusak. The Book Thief had me floored when I first read it, and every time since. His words paint such a vivid picture, and overwhelm you with powerful emotion–there’s also a smattering of humour which never hurts. His unique and bold writing style helps me to gain confidence in my own voice and my own writing style. His is so out there, and unlike anything I’ve ever read, that it helps me to be okay with my own out-there work. It also gives great insight on techniques to create imagery, emotion, and purpose in writing. I wouldn’t say that I copy his style so much as I borrow his confidence.

  6. Great post! I’m of the opinion that every writer mimics other writers. Perhaps unconsciously, perhaps not. Nobody’s writing style develops in a vacuum. However, when you encounter an author whose writing makes your heart full, it’s a great idea to study closely and even mimic them. 🙂

    A new favorite writer of mine is Laini Taylor. She’s the first writer whose prose I’m enamored with. 🙂

    • Oh, Laini Taylor. I’d just about given up on the YA genre until I discovered her “Daughter of Smoke & Bones” series. Taylor’s prose fills me with equal amounts of awe and envy. After reading the first few pages of B1, all I remember thinking was, “This is amazing,” and “I would give my arm to write like this.” I have a notebook filled with my favorite passages from the series, most of which I jotted down not only because they were beautifully crafted, but because they made me stop and stare. Literally, not figuratively. Truly, Taylor is an unrivaled master of description – at least as far as contemporary novelists are concerned.

  7. Lois Lowry. From the first time I read The Giver, I wanted to be able to write like her. She has this beautiful, simple way of placing vivid images in the reader’s mind with very few words. Her novels are not long, but they tug at the heart and you will never forget the characters. Jonas remains one of my favorite fictional heroes.

  8. Very informative post. It’s funny, too, that sometimes we don’t recognize how we may be mimicking another author’s style until someone else points it out, too.

  9. @Bryan: Great example. We all need to read the occasional black sheep to remind us to take risks in our own writing.

    @Emy: You’re absolutely right. Ourselves as writers and by inevitable extension everything we put on paper can’t help but be a composite of all the stimuli we’ve encountered in our lives.

    @Keaghan: Those are the kinds of writers who stick with us all our lives.

    @MGalloway: Very true. Sometimes we can unconsciously go too far in mimicking, so it’s good to always be aware of our ingluences.

  10. Great post, and really timely for me. I am currently writing a novel mimicking Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but only the plot, and even that I am taking liberties with. Basically, it is such a fantastically well-loved story with such a perfect plot, that I decided to try to use the basic misunderstanding and ultimate discovery part of the love story but have made it entirely modern. I always stuggle with plot, so I thought this would give me a framework to use and it’s really helping. Obviously, I’m not using old-school British English and my characters aren’t going to balls, but my MC just hates my “Mr. Darcy” right now, and soon she’ll find out that she was all wrong about him.

  11. That’s one kind of fan fiction that’s wildly popular and salable right now!

  12. Hi K.M. I just finished reading Siri Mitchell’s book Chateau of Echoes. I would love to be able to write in 1st person as well as she does. I have been pushing myself to read more fiction this last year so I can learn from the best!
    Blessings
    Jan

  13. I’ve always read broadly and hungrily, but this last year, I took that a step further and deliberately concentrated on reading books that excelled in areas I felt could be punched up in my own writing. As a crash course, it has proven not only a lot of fun, but incredibly growth-inducing.

  14. The last several authors I’ve read, not least of which is Gene Keeth (He wrote “Hell is for Good People”)…. maybe partly because I’m good friends with his daughters. 😉

    I’ve also heard that trying to write a story word for word from some author is a good way to learn their writing techniques.. just don’t post the story as your own.

    Thnx for another awesome post, K.M.

  15. Great post as always. The last writer I read that made me wish I could write as well is Wendy Corsi Staub. Her mysteries grab you and don’t let go. Right now I am reading Dracula. Not that I want to write exactly like Bram Stoker, but he had a wonderful ability to describe settings you are able to imagine youself in and experience the emotions of all the characters deeply.

  16. @Gideon: Experimental writing is always valuable. Sometimes those experiments are good only for the lessons they teach. But you never know – occasionally, you’ll end up with something special.

    @Marianne: The description style of the classic authors is out of style these days, but nobody knew how to do it better than they did.

  17. Forever and always, it’s Richard Peck. His historical fiction is the best that there is, and I reread his books often.

    As far is mimicry goes, Les Edgerton suggests using it to make your own writing better in his fabulous book ‘Hooked’ when he talks about studying the way a great author will develop an opening. He urges writers trying styles of openings out with their own characters and plots. It’s mimicry, but not copying.

  18. Alice Hoffman or Annie Proulx. Hoffman writes very empathetic characters, and I love Proulx’s prose and sentence structure.

  19. @Beth: I’m glad you mentioned Hooked. For anyone interested, the Kindle version is currently available for free on Amazon.

    @ED: The fabulous thing about being a reading writer is that we don’t have to choose just one great author mimic. We can pick and choose from the best parts of dozens of authors.

  20. My favorite is mega-best-selling horror fiction writer Dean Koontz, whose prose style is often lyrical and always finely crafted. One of our best writers, to my mind.

  21. #2 from me…

    I had trouble posting my comment using my WordPress profile. Don’t know why.
    Kept telling me I have no such (Wrdpress identity), but I do and I was signed to my WordPress dashboard. On the other hand, my Google profile worked fine.

    At any rate, excellent advice. A practice I am in favor of for augmenting my stylistic range.

  22. I know many authors who count Koontz as their greatest influence. Obviously, the man is doing something – a lot of somethings – right.

  23. I love Stephen King (I’m his biggest fan), and want to write like he does. Gross, way-out, humor. But I would never copy. I would love to write “that break-out novel” but don’t want to copy or re-do any of the money-winners (vampires, werewolves, the Devil). So I simply write what I want to and hope somebody, somewhere, realizes that I’m awesome.

  24. That’s the surest way I know of to reach your goal! If you write from the deepest part of who you are, if you write the story you want to read, you’re sure to connect with readers who share your tastes – just as King connected with you.

  25. Yes, yes, yes! We learn to talk by imitating the voices around us. We learn to sing the same way. And we learn to write by trying out ideas, voices, format, tone, and content we’ve heard before, whether we do it intentionally or not. I teach a workshop called “Piggyback Books” where participants pull out elements of existing books to create their own. It’s fun, people learn it’s not “cheating,” and they acquire worthwhile skills and confidence. Thanks for validating the process and for spreading the word. Go ahead, everyone—be a copycat!

  26. Sounds like a great workshop! The point about all of learning resulting, in one sense or another, from mimicry is important in validating our deliberately learning from other authors.

  27. I’d like to mimic Laini Taylor. Daughter of Smoke and Bone was one of the best books I’ve read this year.

  28. Great title!

  29. Would my intent be too obvious if for the question “Who’s the last author who made you think I want to write like that?” I answered “K.M. Weiland”?

  30. Want me to be honest? Charles Dickens, Suzanne Collins, and K. L. Going are my three latest “writer idols” xD

  31. For me, it is authors who can plot out these intricate novel plots – I think, why can’t I do that? why is my brain so restrictive? why does the great black hole hide the wonders? I feel I have good “writing chops” as far as the writing part goes and I think I’m pretty good at dialogue, and such, but when it comes to telling my stories, I worry I am not enough of a plotter-okay, I don’t plot – I meander *laugh*. Which is why I’ve told myself for this next book, I am going to try to be more structured -I bought your book and a few more on my kindle. But, Lawd! I am who I am, so we’ll see 😀

  32. @Lester: I’m honored!

    @The Director: Dickens is one of my perennial favorites. I just discovered Collins, but she has me coming back for more.

    @Kathryn: I hope you find Outlining Your Novel useful! The advantages of outlining are innumerable if you can get them to work for you.

  33. You mean besides you? Second choice: I’m reading Christy by Catherine Marshall. Her descriptions and character development are superb. It’s the first book of hers I’ve read, and it won’t be the last.

  34. Haven’t read that one, though I know it’s a classic in Christian circles. Someone told me the TV series based on the book was good.

  35. I never saw the TV series, but the book is good. I’ll let you know what I think after I finish it. I don’t typically like Christian fiction because the characters are never fully developed, and some authors bang you over the head with the message. So far, that isn’t the case with Christy.

  36. Please do. I’ll look forward to hearing you’re opinion when you’re finished.

  37. Joyce Carrol Oates.

  38. Always a classic.

  39. Salman Rushdie (speaking of setting lofty goals); and his writing style, not content, theme, or personal life per se — and Rushdie mixed with Tolkien.

  40. Now there’s an interesting combination! And, combined with your own unique style, I’m sure it ends up giving your readers something unique and special.

  41. There are three that have turned my crank for different reasons in recent memory. Elmore Leonard for his unique characters and sharp, crisp dialogue. Dean Koontz for his imagery and prose as well as intricate plotting. David Baldacci for great story ideas and pure storytelling genius.

  42. The masses will agree with you on those three. There’s a reason they’re all bestsellers.

  43. Moira Young’s debut novel Blood Red Road really made me sit up and say, “Wow! I want to write like her!” In fact, I’ve read plenty of books this year that have made me want to stretch my writing muscles and try a new style. Reading really is the best homework a writer can do.

  44. Lucky for us it’s a lot more fun than homework has any right to be!

  45. I have a lot of authors with varying styles I want to write like. Everyone from Diane Mott Davidson to Vince Flynn. Honestly, unless the book is absolute crap (and I can say that about very few books I read), I pull little things from every book. The last one that I noticed a lot from was one of the books based on the “Burn Notice” TV series. I really noticed how well the writer had the voice of Michael Westen down–and down PAT. I also noticed how he handled scenes outside of Michael’s point of view, when the rest of the book was written in 1st person. The books may not be bestsellers, but I gleaned something I liked, and hope to use in my own way, from them. Still trying to decide what I can glean from the “written by Rick Castle” books… I’m mostly trying to figure out who is actually writing them!

  46. I just discovered those “written by” Castle books the other night and about busted out laughing. What a great gimmick! I’m not a bigger reader in the genre anyway, and I’m sure those books aren’t the best representatives, but I’m more than a little tempted to buy one just for the kick of it.

  47. My choice: the writers of Dexter. The characters are well-developed and they manage to take the same tropes every season and twist them into a new narrative that always leaves me wanting more.

  48. Originality is perhaps the most difficult ingredient of writing to bottle. If we can tap into its magic, we’re already halfway to success.

  49. Library Bray definitely makes me want to be a writer. Her work is so great. This post was also great. Thanks for the reminder to read who inspires us. Too often I get caught up in reading someone else’s work and thinking “I am doing it wrong ” when I need to remember to a) trust myself and b) trust Libba! Thanks!

  50. Her name is LIbrary? How cool is that?

  51. Michael Connelly. I have read just about everything this man has every published. He is brilliant! If I could write hald as well…

  52. Keep reading him! The more we can learn from our favorite authors, the more likely we’ll be able to mimic their success.

  53. Thanks for yet another really helpful article. When I was a kid I read John Blaine and learned how to time plot and counterplot. Then Shute taught me how to build the big plot. From Heinlein I learned the sense of place and the crafted character.

    When I was writing Jane’s final briefing before she leaves to confront Arthur I suddenly realised I was writing the last supper. I went with it and modelled the next chapter on Gethsemane. Yes, I really have let a chunk of the bible give me structure for an SF novel.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Deeply archetypal stories and symbolism resonates even when readers don’t consciously pick up on it.

  54. Rick Buck says

    “instead of settling for any ol’ drivel that dribbles from our pens.” Another wonderful turn of phrase you’ve gifted us, Katie! Great post. When I first started writing, I wanted to become a cross between Mark Twain and Ray Bradbury, so I tried to emulate them both. I still hear echoes of their voices in my writing, to this day. But now as an homage, rather than trying to become them.

  55. Usvaldo de Leon says

    “Drivel that dribbles”, *chef’s kiss*

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