by Will Viharo
A lot of us get into the writing game because we want to be the “new Stephen King” or the “new E.L. James” or the “new Michael Crichton” or the “new Barbara Kingsolver”…well, you get it.
My influences as a youthful scribe were J.D. Salinger, Raymond Chandler, and Damon Runyon, and later, John Fante, Charles Bukowski, Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford, and David Goodis. To name but a few.
You can probably “feel” that inspiration in my work, but hopefully it’s not too consciously obvious, because there’s only one way any writer can ever gain any distinction in this crowded industry: be yourself.
You know when you’re reading a particularly powerful passage in an especially moving novel or short story or poem or screenplay, and you say to yourself, “Hey, I want to write like that!”
Either that, or “damn, I’ll never to be able to write like that.”
Either way, you need to limit your enthusiasm to a fan’s appreciation. No, you’ll never write “like that,” and you shouldn’t even try. You need to find your own voice. And you do that the hard way: by reading, reading, and reading some more.
Then writing, writing, and writing some more. Eventually, you will naturally discover your own unique style, perspective, and rhythm.
You can’t write just like anyone else, but no one can write just like you.
The Xerox Files
Sure, maybe you will wind up producing short, choppy, “hard-boiled” sentences like Hammett or Hemingway or Hunter Thompson that hit the reader like a sock on the jaw, or fluid, romantic lines like F. Scott Fitzgerald or Anne Rice or James Lee Burke that resonate in the reader’s mind like prose, or you paint pictures of fantastical lands a la George R.R. Martin or J.K. Rowling or J.R.R. Tolkien or Philip K. Dick, or effortlessly witty and wise like Kurt Vonnegut or Douglas Adams or Dorothy Parker.
Cool. Good for you.
As long as no one mistakes you for any of those authors, or automatically assumes you’re merely a cheap echo chamber, exploiting the talents of more successful authors, attempting to pass off your own imagination as an original, organic source of ideas and imagery.
Unless you’re consciously marketing your work as “fanfic,” which is indeed quite popular and often proves lucrative amongst fellow fans of a particular pop culture cult, your goal as a writer should be to shed any hint of the works that made you want to be a writer.
Honor the writers that impacted you by following in their footsteps, not making plaster models of them and passing them off as your own.
So a final word to the wise: never plagiarize. Even subconsciously.
There’s nothing creative about carbon copies. And let’s face it: who wants to be the literary equivalent of an Elvis impersonator?