Monday, February 13, 2017

Notes from New York: Forced Immitation

Welcome back to Notes from New York! Its about time we get back to our usual schedule of updates don't you think? Well let's jump right and talk about "trying too hard".

Is there such thing as "trying too hard" in the writing world? After all, we all put our blood sweat and tears into our manuscripts. Some days it feels like we can never be enough. How can we ever put in enough effort? But actually there is such a thing as trying too hard, and it usually shows in your prose in the form of forced immitation.

In my internship, there were many occasions when I opened up a query, read the sample pages, and found myself reading a piece of literary fiction that was putting way too much effort into flowery prose. They used lots of big words that, theoretically, could be put to beautiful use. But it just didn’t sound natural. This is often a case of forced imitation. The writers behind these pages really wanted to emulate their favorite authors so they tried to mimic their style. But when you’re mimicking and trying to force your prose to be flowery through an overuse of adjectives and large words…it can verge on sounding fake, unnatural and pretentious.

Why is this? Well because this isn’t your style. It’s someone else’s that you are forcing yourself to emulate. Pro tip, a reader can always tell when a writer is faking it. Its something about the way the words are strung together. They come out stilted rather than flowing. Confused rather than clear.

Forced imitation shows in the work of commercial fiction writers too, of course. Sometimes you can tell an author is trying way too hard to mimic the style or sense of humor of one of their idols. I had a phase myself where I strove to recreate the sarcastic wit of Maximum Ride. It came out very forced and cringy...and honestly, the sense of humor in those books was already forced and cringy. 

The best way to fix this problem? Get to know your own style. Heck, maybe your style is literary, with prose like honey. Maybe your sense of humor is a riot. But as long as you’re simply imitating, you won’t find that genuine voice that sets you apart from the others. 

Of course you may continue to draw inspiration from your favorite authors. Of course continue to read, read and read more to improve your own writing. But remember, imitation at the detriment of your own voice is a killer. An agent doesn’t want ‘the next blank’. They want someone new and fresh. Take a risk on your voice and maybe you’ll find something special.

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