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Old 01-08-2013, 06:52 PM   #1
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Is it wrong to copy another author’s style?

When does it become wrong to copy anther authorís style of writing?
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Old 01-08-2013, 06:57 PM   #2
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It's not wrong to copy another author's style, no. Pastiche is an honourable pursuit. If you find yourself copying the actual words an author used, that's when you start to tip over into plagiarism.
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Old 01-08-2013, 06:58 PM   #3
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When it's obviously derivitive. Which, unfortunately, comes under the 'how long is a piece of string?' kind of thing.

In general, it's not a good idea to try to copy another author's style, because it will assuredly be derivitive. What you need to do is develop your own unique voice and style.

(The exception would be if one is intentionally copying another author for something like a mash-up or homage.)
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Old 01-08-2013, 07:06 PM   #4
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Define "Wrong."

It becomes plagiarism when you also copy their words.
It becomes derivative when you have nothing creative and new to add and you're copying only to copy.

"Right" or "Wrong" isn't really a judgement I'd apply. There's only interesting and boring.

I've read some really entertaining stories and books written to resemble the styles of Jane Austin, Shakespeare, HP Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, etc.

When I was putting together my first book, I bought an extra paperback copy of the book I most wanted it to be like, and literally tore it apart for structure. How many pages to each significant plot point. How many words dedicated to main plot vs. sub plot. How many characters. How many scenes per chapter, etc.
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Old 01-08-2013, 07:17 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by msd View Post
When does it become wrong to copy anther authorís style of writing?
At precisely 3:47 p.m.

Trying to copy an author's style is difficult if not impossible. For one thing, it's hard to pinpoint exactly what that author's style is. Is it the sentence structure? The word choice? What?

I suspect -- correct me if I'm wrong -- you are considering this because you lack faith in your own writing at the moment. Perhaps you can't pinpoint your own style and are looking elsewhere to find one.

My advice? Just write. Style isn't something we cultivate. It's something that happens when we're not paying attention.
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Old 01-08-2013, 07:27 PM   #6
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What I understand from the OP, let me know if I'm wrong, is that you have unintentionally copied another writer's style and you want to know if you're wrong in doing it.

If this is the case:
First of all, it's probably not as bad as you think. It's hard to copy a STYLE as it is not something concrete. Even if, say, you are able to copy his sentence structure style, you would not have his voice. If you are able to copy his voice and tone, you will not have is imagination. And so on...

So if you have a writing style that is SIMILAR to another writer's, then there's no problem.
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Old 01-08-2013, 07:41 PM   #7
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Every time I read someone strongly-flavoured, like Patrick O'Brian or Jack Vance, I end up unconsciously echoing their styles for a few days afterwards. That's without meaning to; I have a good ear for style and I write a good parody/pastiche, so I don't think it's terribly difficult to deliberately ape another writer. (Craig Brown does it twice a month in Private Eye.)

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Old 01-08-2013, 07:46 PM   #8
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How many writers copy the style of H.P. Lovecraft? There are magazines and anthologies that request Lovecraftian stories.

Copy style all you want, but you should eventually take on your own style.

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Old 01-08-2013, 07:58 PM   #9
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Copying another writer's style is a good way to learn how to alter your writing voice. You want to be able to hop from character to character and let their personality flavour your words, so training yourself to shift from one writer's voice to another is a good practice for that.

In other words, do it, and do it to a variety of writers, and also keep your eye on the goal, which is to make yourself flexible and adept at infusing your writing with distinct character voices.
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Old 01-08-2013, 08:01 PM   #10
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OP, read this.

There is no argument for copying being bad that can withstand a rigorous rebuttal. But it is important not to borrow too much from just *one* writer.

Quote:
Originally Posted by guttersquid View Post
Trying to copy an author's style is difficult if not impossible. For one thing, it's hard to pinpoint exactly what that author's style is. Is it the sentence structure? The word choice? What?
I disagree a lot with this ("copy" != create an indistinguishable copy)...

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Originally Posted by guttersquid View Post
Style isn't something we cultivate. It's something that happens when we're not paying attention.
...and this (it's not "wrong," but neither is the converse).

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Old 01-08-2013, 08:01 PM   #11
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I think a good piece of writerly advice is to do two things a lot...

1) Read widely and broadly so you soak up ideas and tips and techniques almost subconsciously

2) Write a lot so you can put these into practise and, by doing so, develop your own style again in a subconscious manner.

You will tend to merge bits you like from writers you like but you will also be adding your own interpretation to that as you go so the whole thing becomes unique. If some reviewer happens to say your writing is 'reminiscent of [insert well known author name]' then this is no bad thing to have your name associated with thiers (and many authors have these reviews showcased on their book covers because fans of that author might consider buying theirs because of the link).
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Old 01-08-2013, 08:32 PM   #12
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I don't know because I would never deliberately copy another author's writing style, words, or anything. If my writing resembles another author, it's entirely coincidental. Just saying it's not something I would do on purpose, you know. I'd never read a book and say, "Oh, I like this style. Let me copy it!" I try to learn from bad writing, that's why I deliberately do read bad books, you know, books that are widely criticized, to learn what NOT to do, but that's the only thing I do. I'm looking toward buying a bad book this month just to learn from it, but that's beside the point.
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Old 01-08-2013, 09:22 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Torgo View Post
It's not wrong to copy another author's style, no. Pastiche is an honourable pursuit. If you find yourself copying the actual words an author used, that's when you start to tip over into plagiarism.

also, "copying a style" can be a great learning tool, and "emulating" a writer you like is a great thing....but at some point "copying" becomes derivative, and suffers--there's plenty of folks out there who write "just like Ray Bradbury", only nowhere near as good.
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Old 01-08-2013, 09:28 PM   #14
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Joyce Carol Oates did this in her book, 'Wild Nights,' in which she imitated Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway and Henry James. The stories were original, but each was written in the distinctive style of said authors.
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Old 01-08-2013, 09:48 PM   #15
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Depends on what you're trying to accomplish by doing so. Using another author's style to tell a story of your own is derivative if you do not contribute anything of your own to it. Copying a style for purposes of teaching yourself can be useful, if you want to learn to alter your voice, as said before. I think Neil Gaiman started out by doing parody bits of a variety of writers, and Hunter S. Thompson rewrote works of Hemingway and others word by word in order to infer what was going through their minds when they first wrote the pieces. I hear it can be quite an educational method.
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Old 01-08-2013, 09:58 PM   #16
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Is 'derivative' a bad thing?
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Old 01-08-2013, 10:10 PM   #17
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Quote:
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Is 'derivative' a bad thing?
If what one writes is to all extents and purposes exactly like something that already exists, why would anyone want to read it? And for that matter, why would anyone want to write it? I for one decided to get into this hobby to create something new.
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Old 01-08-2013, 10:16 PM   #18
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No, it isn't wrong. And probably isn't even derivative. Basically copying a story is derivative. Copying style just means liking the way a person writes, and adopting it for yourself. You can't and won't match the style exactly. No one owns a style, and in all honesty, there aren't very many different styles out there. It's only the extreme styles that get noticed. Most published writers have a style that can't be distinguished from the style of five hundred other writers.

Anyone who reads and writes almost certainly copies style, whether they realize it or not. There are only so many ways of writing a sentence, only so many ways of using rhythm and flow. There are only so many words for a given item.

Style just isn't something to worry about beyond making it readable. It's what another writer says that you can't copy, and shouldn't want to copy. You don't want to tell another writer's story, but if you like a writer's style, there's no reason at all not to copy it.
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Old 01-08-2013, 10:17 PM   #19
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Quote:
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If what one writes is to all extents and purposes exactly like something that already exists, why would anyone want to read it? And for that matter, why would anyone want to write it? I for one decided to get into this hobby to create something new.
Derivative doesn't mean identical, though. And I can think of several pretty successful sequels-by-other-hands. How many Sherlock Holmes pastiches are out there? How much fanfic? (How much of Shakespeare is riffs on other people's stories?)
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Old 01-08-2013, 10:40 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jamesaritchie View Post
No, it isn't wrong. And probably isn't even derivative. Basically copying a story is derivative. Copying style just means liking the way a person writes, and adopting it for yourself. You can't and won't match the style exactly. No one owns a style, and in all honesty, there aren't very many different styles out there. It's only the extreme styles that get noticed. Most published writers have a style that can't be distinguished from the style of five hundred other writers.
I learned a great deal from imitating the styles of my most-admired authors. Some of their methods "stuck" and fit nicely with how I write; others, I can't do or I sound like an idiot. The net effect, tho, was to make me a much better writer.

Once upon a time I set out to study Melanie Rawn's style, as being the most author-invisible of anyone I've read. This lasted about 3 paragraphs. 200 pages later, I remembered why I was rereading her book.
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Old 01-08-2013, 11:41 PM   #21
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There's nothing objectively wrong with it unless you're trying to pass yourself off as the other writer (in a serious way, not in a "bad Hemingway" way).
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Old 01-09-2013, 12:13 AM   #22
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Derivative doesn't mean identical, though. And I can think of several pretty successful sequels-by-other-hands. How many Sherlock Holmes pastiches are out there? How much fanfic? (How much of Shakespeare is riffs on other people's stories?)
A sequel by other hands isn't by definition derivative, it can be a fresh new story simply featuring characters from the original. Bad sequels, by the hand of original authors or those of another, tend to be derivative, as they repeat the basic formula of the original story without bringing anything new into the mix. There's nothing derivative in using elements from other peoples' works in itself, it's what you do with them that defines whether or not a work is derivative. For example, I loved Neil Gaiman's short story "A Study in Emerald", even though it was basically a retelling of Conan Doyle's original "A Study in Scarlet", because it changed the setting and mixed up the roles of the main characters and antagonists in a really fresh way.
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Old 01-09-2013, 12:27 AM   #23
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Why not just allow yourself to be inspired by another author's writing?
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Old 01-09-2013, 01:04 AM   #24
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A sequel by other hands isn't by definition derivative, it can be a fresh new story simply featuring characters from the original. Bad sequels, by the hand of original authors or those of another, tend to be derivative, as they repeat the basic formula of the original story without bringing anything new into the mix. There's nothing derivative in using elements from other peoples' works in itself, it's what you do with them that defines whether or not a work is derivative. For example, I loved Neil Gaiman's short story "A Study in Emerald", even though it was basically a retelling of Conan Doyle's original "A Study in Scarlet", because it changed the setting and mixed up the roles of the main characters and antagonists in a really fresh way.
I think we agree, basically. ASIE is definitely a derivative work by a copyright lawyer's definition and also in the sense that it apes Conan Doyle's style, but it's also really excellent. I just don't think 'derivative' is necessarily a dirty word.
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Old 01-09-2013, 01:31 AM   #25
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I just don't think 'derivative' is necessarily a dirty word.
I suppose the meaning we associate with the term is slightly different. If we define derivative in the broad sense, I agree that it isn't necessarily a bad thing.
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