Writers are Readers
--By Stella Atrium
Mitchell claimed once that she didn't listen to music of her peers (or
competitors) because she didn't want the melodies or rhymes to impact
her style. Music is in the air, and composers can imitate without
realizing the source.
knew a singer-songwriter who performed twice a month at a small club.
One week he sounded like Steve Goodman, and the next time he sounded
like Kris Kristofferson, and later his voice had the quality of Fred
Holstein. I saw him perform again about a year later, and the young
songwriter had found a method of phrasing that suited him, really and
amalgam of all his heroes.
By emulating those who came before,
he met audience expectations and began to step out on his own.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they say.
are always experimenting, and a turn of phrase borrowed from another
writer shows that he reads, at least. Except fantasy writers borrow
magic from other stories, and borrow powers for vampires from other
stories; even slang in urban fantasy is often borrowed from other
I had a writer friend who refused to read the Harry
Potter series because she didn't want her own work to appear
derivative. This concern is real — I can tell after devouring a
fantasy series from a single author if she read Shakespeare or not.
word skulking is from Hamlet, for example. The young prince and his
buddies skulked around the rampart until the king's ghost appeared.
learn to address the world by using models of success and following
lessons learned by elders shared as cautionary tales. We feel engaged
with the group when we identify with players or singers or actors. Rick
Perry wants to be the Tim Tebow of the debates.
We know we have succeeded when the boss enters a meeting wearing your same tie.
Bradbury claimed he wrote well when he fed his soul with good reading.
His imagination was alive and ready for making new characters and new
dialogue. Perhaps the operative word here is GOOD reading. It's not
enough to read; what we read counts for quality writing, just like
museum art or music that isn't rap.
We write what we know. The
first science fiction stories grew from the experiences of engineers
who were veterans of WWII and had seen the horrors people can do.
Remember GI Joe comic books? Remember Slaughterhouse Five by Vonnegut?
it's fine to capture words and situations from reading and re-purpose
and remediate (my word of the day, he, he). It's also fine to research
and dig deeper to find your truth spoken in your voice that you
delineated by comparison to all those other voices, like a soloist in a
Just don't write any more vampire stories, 'kay?