It's Monday evening and I'm still alive ... SUCCESS!!! *high fives all around*
Now before anyone blows a gasket over the title of this post, I'll clarify and say that I'm not talking about plagiarism. If you didn't write it, you shouldn't claim it. What I AM talking about is the idea of using the style, techniques, and methods of successful/favorite authors to enhance your own work. This isn't a new idea ...
"Art begins in imitation and ends in innovation." ~ Mason Cooley
One key way that humans (and many other animals/mammals) learn is through imitation. Anyone who has seen children play 'house' or 'school' (or done so themselves) has witnessed it first hand. A psychologist by the name of Albert Bandura developed the Social Learning Theory based upon studies he performed where children were observed interacting with each other. He believed that modeling, which had once been decried as one of the most primitive forms of learning, was in fact used to "learn" many of the higher order social and emotional aspects of human behavior. Things like love, empathy and--more controversially--violent behavior/tendencies.
He was a smart dude.
"By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest." ~ Confucius
So if it's as easy as that, why aren't we all bestsellers? If I go through the same process as Stephen King, why is he able to write me under the table? I think it probably comes down to awareness. Observation and imitation are different things. Learning really only occurs when the two are put together.
"Were I called on to define, very briefly, the term Art, I should call it 'the reproduction of what the Senses perceive in Nature through the veil of the soul.' The mere imitation, however accurate, of what is in Nature, entitles no man to the sacred name of 'Artist.'" ~ Edgar Allan Poe
After you've gleaned all that you can, then move to imitation. Can you write a paragraph or sentence that fans of the author wouldn't be able to set apart? It's harder than it sounds, but if you truly want to understand why a certain author/writing style works, it's a step that must be taken.
"It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation." ~ Herman MelvilleWhile I cannot--and should not--rely solely on imitation, I tend to believe that the key to unlocking my writing potential may very well be held in the collective hands of others. In the end I may utilize but a fraction of what I derive from others in my own writing, but the process of studying their work will surely lead to a strengthening of my own prose.
What about you? Do you have authors you emulate or study? If you could steal a skill from any author what/who would it be? As for me, I'd love to have JK Rowling's plotting abilities! I'll leave you with one final quote.
“Men nearly always follow the tracks made by others and proceed in their affairs by imitation, even though they cannot entirely keep to the tracks of others or emulate the prowess of their models. So a prudent man should always follow in the footsteps of great men and imitate those who have been outstanding. If his own prowess fails to compare with theirs, at least it has an air of greatness about it. He should behave like those archers who, if they are skilful, when the target seems too distant, know the capabilities of their bow and aim a good deal higher than their objective, not in order to shoot so high but so that by aiming high they can reach the target.” ~ Machiavelli