Bewildering Stories Editorial
by Jerry WrightThoughts For Beginning Writers
One of the greatest tools for a beginning writer is to read prodigiously and copy the writing and writing styles of good writers. Wait! cries someone from the audience. Don't you mean >GREAT< writers?
No. I mean good writers. Imitating GREAT writers can wait until you are a good writer yourself. Seriously, it has also been said that to copy from one is plagairism. To copy from many is research. This works in the fields of style and conceptualizations as well. One who wants to be a good writer should copy and analyze the writings and styles of large quantities of good writers. And as you write in the style of, say, Larry Niven, or Isaac Asimov, or even (whisper it, now) Margaret Atwood, analyze why certain ways of writing elicit certain feelings in you.
But be careful in your choice of writers to copy. Some writers, (Piers Anthony comes to mind) are extremely popular among a certain type of reader. And maybe you really enjoy him and want to write like him. Anthony walks a thin line between being sweet and being cloying, between writing popular materials, and being so repetitious you want to box his ears. I have read and enjoyed much of Anthony's writing, but I can't hardly read him any more. There a word: "twee". Sadly, that describes much of Anthony's writing. Does he care what I say? No, nor should he. He knows what his audience wants. And he delivers. But other authors (fairly good ones at that) try to do what Anthony does and are either ham-fistedly stupid in what they think is humor, or are just painful to read. And one would think they would know better.
Does that mean you shouldn't try to write like Piers Anthony? No, not really. Just don't inflict it on others. A beginning writer shouldn't try to write like Terry Pratchett. Well, actually, go ahead. Just don't inflict it on others. How about master stylist Gene Wolfe? I wouldn't try it; the man is just TOO good.
So you want to write? Grab an issue of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine or Analog or The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Read those stories. Try to copy the WAY those writers write. Think about how they portray their characters, how they move the plot along, how they maintain the interest of their readers.
In the final analysis, you have to use your own words to become the writer you want to be. But you can learn a tremendous amount by initially copying and analyzing the style of other writers. Through this method, you gain an intimate understanding of the way good writers construct their stories.
"Do not fear imitation. Nobody sensible pursues an imitative style as a long-term goal, but all accomplished writers know that the notion of pure originality is a childish fantasy. Up to a point, imitation is the path to discovery and essential to growth."And...
-Stephen Koch, Princeton and Columbia writing teacher
Copyright © 2005 by Jerry Wright for Bewildering Stories