Most writers, myself included, have turned to this profession inspired by the work of other writers. However, when you start writing, you quickly realize that you’re no Stephen King, John Grisham, or Sidney Sheldon! I’m not suggesting that you aren’t a good writer capable of bestselling novels – what I’m saying is that every writer is unique. However, what if you do want to be another Sidney Sheldon, just for a while?
How to write in someone else’s voice?
Well, the term for imitating another writer’s style is ‘emulation’, and today, we’ll discuss all about it. Let’s start with some FAQs.
Frequently Asked Questions about emulation
Let’s get some common questions out of the way before we begin learning the process.
What does it mean to emulate a writer?
You’re probably worried we’re writing a detailed guide on plagiarism, so let me be clear – emulation is nothing like plagiarism. When you emulate a writer, you copy the way they write – their sentence length, their tone, their brand of humor, the way they structure their chapters, the sort of words they use. It’s comparable to singing melismatically like Mariah Carey. You’re doing nothing illegal and you aren’t singing her songs, but if someone came across your work without discovering your identity, they would assume it’s her.
Is this the same as ghostwriting?
No. Ghostwriting is something entirely differently – it’s writing under someone else’s name (which is different from using a pseudonym…sigh). If you’re looking for a guide on ghostwriting, stay tuned – it’s coming up soon!
When would you want to emulate someone?
You might want to emulate a writer’s style when you’re new to writing, to expand your abilities if you’re unfamiliar with a genre, want to give yourself a writing challenge, or simply because you like their writing style. It’s a good exercise for new writers who haven’t found their voice yet.
How to write like someone else?
Now that we’ve gone over the most commonly asked questions, let’s discuss how to master this skill. It’s pretty easy once you understand the process (although bear in mind we never said it’s a quick process).
Let me start this by talking about how most of us decide we like a book, or an author. Some books have a fantastic plot and characters, that’s fair enough, but mostly it’s simply because of the way the author writes. So we can’t point out that I like this page and that page – we like all of it. That’s why a lot of us prefer authors instead of books – we’ll read anything by our favorite authors.
In learning how to emulate a writer, we’ll be talking a lot about authors’ styles. This means the voice of the author, and the way an author expresses him or herself in writing. It differs for each person, with some having more individuality than others.
As mentioned previously, all writers have a unique style that gives away part of their personality. You can usually tell whether an author is male or female, young or old, British or American, and to a certain extent, you can guess what their personality’s like – all based on their work. It’s kind of like listening to someone talk, which may or may not be why it’s called their ‘voice’.
Now we get back to the question…
How to imitate a writing style?
The answer is simple, by observing and practicing.
How to write in someone else’s voice: Observing
Here’s a three-step guide to observing your target writer’s style.
First, point out unique elements of their writing style. For instance, Terry Pratchett’s cheerful humor, Douglas Adams’ loud, wacky humor, Stephen King’s gloomy atmospheres, and P G Wodehouse’s cheerfully annoying characters. This is done broadly, based on how they’ve written an entire book. See whether their books are dialogue or description-heavy. You can do this for books you’ve read in the past – you don’t necessarily have to read a book and pore over it.
Then you come to the nitty-gritty: the sentence length, beats, the types of words they use, their style of description. Also look at common traits in characters, and the way they are introduced. Doing sentence diagrams is a good idea. They’re a visual representation of the grammatical structure a person employs, and they provide a lot of insight into how an author writes. You could do it for two different writers to see the difference.
The third factor is the writer’s personality. Use whatever you know about them to your advantage, and learn more, if possible. Reading Isaac Asimov’s joke books, for instance, will give you an understanding of the way he talks and thinks, which’ll help you emulate his style. Note where the author’s from, their age and gender, and other such facts. You don’t want to write a Pratchett-esque story and call chillies “peppers”, for instance!
Where to start
When you’re trying to emulate an author, the best way to start is by reading a couple of their books. Personally, I find other authors’ voices influence mine own, so I end up emulating them involuntarily if I’m not careful. However, if that isn’t the case with you, notice while reading what makes the book sound like it was written by the author. Note these elements down, and do a quick exercise to see if you can copy them in your writing.
Sentence diagrams and such can wait till later – you don’t want to give yourself too many to-do items at once. Start by just reading casually. Enjoy the chapter, and see if anything strikes you as very “like” the author. In the second chapter, try to more actively notice the author’s writing style – but don’t pull out the notepad and pen till you’re a couple chapters in. Having read a little bit will come in handy later.
Don’t task yourself with being perfect, or give yourself too much to do. Step three, for instance, can be considered somewhat lightly. If you know something about the author, then that’s great – use it. If you don’t, don’t go about looking for an autobiography. The effort will probably not be worth the yield, and you risk getting sidetracked.
How to write in someone else’s voice: Practicing
Ideally, when practicing writing in another voice, you should create new content as you go. Editing existing content to make it sound different is much harder in my opinion, so don’t attempt to copy edit one of your stories to change its voice. Reading your voice and writing in someone else’s will quickly get confusing. If you do need to re-work some existing content, try another approach – memorize the key plot points, and write it afresh, emulating the author.
So for most writers, that’s the way to go. Just make up a scene so you have an introduction, a description, some dialogue, and perhaps a little action. This’ll give you a thoroughly ‘complete’ scene practice-wise. Then if your practice goes well and the scene sounds right, you could expand upon it and create a full story!
I like to do mostly dialogues when starting on a new story (or doing exercises), because they’re easier for me to write than, say, descriptions. The obligatory character description is a pain for me. If you too have an Achilles heel, keep that in mind and keep things fairly easy at the start. Eventually you’ll want to write more of what you aren’t good at to try and improve, but that’s for later.
You’ll have to practice a lot, tweaking things and changing something here and there, before you get it right. So if you need to get an author’s voice before starting a particular project, make sure you have enough time. It’s been said often enough that writing is a slow process.
Walking the line between emulation and imitation
While studying how the author writes, you probably studied the kind of characters they create, common elements in plots, and other such features. When creating your own story, remember that you shouldn’t use the same ideas, but the same techniques.
If you were to write a story about a flat world where everything is chaotic and magical, for instance, you wouldn’t be emulating Pratchett – you’d be imitating the Discworld series. Understanding the difference can be hard, but here’s something that might help: If your writing starts to remind you of a character or a story rather than an author, you’re probably heading in the wrong direction.
Here’s an example: Pratchett uses a lot of footnotes in the Discworld books, but not in his other work. If you wrote something that had a general Discworld-like vibe and lots of footnotes, you’d be toeing the line.
So as you can see, writing in someone else’s voice is fairly easy. Just observe their writing style and then let it flow into your own, through the magic of practice. You’ll be doing a lot of reading and writing – which is fantastic; it’ll help you heaps as a writer. In fact, if you’re stuck with writer’s block and want an exercise for it, emulation could be a good one!
This was our guide on emulation. We hope you found it helpful. If you’re interested in learning more, check out our exclusive blog on tips for writers and bloggers, we have many articles you can check out.