Tips & tricks for capturing the 'voice' of a piece of fiction?
August 24, 2013 5:10 AM   Subscribe

How do you go about consciously aping the voice/tone/style of a particular genre of fiction or writer?

I'm trying to produce some writing in imitation of a particular genre.

Obviously the first step is 'read a lot of genre x,' but I seem stuck at the next part of producing writing in that style.

So I'm seeking advice on how to go about this. Are there any details I should be particularly paying attention to? Any exercises you could suggest?

More detail on what I'm trying to do in case it helps:
I'm trying to write a Fiasco playset. Which is basically of a list of things (relationships, objects, needs, locations) which define a setting. I'm aiming for an Ancient Greek playset based on ancient comedy. The writing style of playsets is supposed to imitate the style of fiction you're copying which is where I'm struggling.

Although I'd prefer generic answers since I'm sure I'll run into this problem again.
posted by Erberus to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Never tried this, but I hear it helps to literally type up the stories of the author you're trying to imitate. (Or longform, as you will.) It helps you get in the rhythm of their sentences.
posted by tooloudinhere at 5:19 AM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Try reading the source material aloud to yourself (or listening to a recording if possible) just before writing. Depending on how you write, it might help to start narrating your own piece aloud too. How well this works probably has something to do with your learning style, but I know that listening to audiobooks usually leaves me thinking in that format for a good few minutes. 

Another way to kickstart yourself: write a few sentences that are very similiar to the source and then slowly start differentiating as you go. Worry more about the phrasing than the content - you can always edit later.
posted by eponym at 5:47 AM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd separate it out into pieces and work on them individually. Perhaps from least to most specific: general content, then plot, characters, and setting, then writing style. I'd compare each part against the source--would so-and-so write about this topic, or have this event happen, or create this character? I think I'd write it in my own words, and then tweak it for style/sound at the very last.

If it's more specifically the style/sound you're struggling with, I'd break that down too--look at sentence construction, their lengths, the words used. The actual words would definitely be something I would only really work on when everything else was in place.

The project sounds very, very cool!
posted by Baethan at 6:12 AM on August 24, 2013

Yes, I was going to suggest literally typing out the style you want to emulate. If you really want to do it old-school, write it out with pen and paper. There's a long writing tradition of "channeling" from the body to the page.
posted by thinkpiece at 6:12 AM on August 24, 2013

1) Notice the sentence structures of the source material. Are they long and complex, or short and punchy? Do they lead with the main noun, or do they start with an adverb phrase? Are there lots of commas, dashes, exclamation points? Are there lots of compound sentences? Dialog? Just notice what's common.

2) Notice the types of words used. Is the vocabulary academic or beyond academic into super-literary? Is it deliberately simple? Some writers try to limit their word choices to historically germanic (can sound more "of the people") or historically latin (usually sounds more "upper class"), e.g. loving vs. amorous, big vs. grand, etc. -- I suggest some Googling to learn more about this.

3) Notice if there are elements to emulate in character descriptions. Does the writer describe characters through their clothes, work, relationships, or car?

4) Notice the values of the writer. Does he write about loyalty? Cleverness? Honesty? Family? The innocence of animals? Just getting along and not clinging to idealized values like loyalty and honesty?

These are just some initial ideas. See what else you can find. Good luck.
posted by amtho at 7:22 AM on August 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

Whenever I do this I tend to try making a meta-story around the story I'm trying to tell, where I come up with a fake character who's doing the writing, and develop motivations and linguistic tics for that character. If you're imitating a specific writer, this is a bit easier, since you have material to work with (David Lynch is writing a children's picture book because of reason X, he feels emotion Y about doing this, that makes it sound like so...).

For your ancient Greek playset example, maybe you could come up with your own poet or playwright persona based on your knowledge of ancient Greek literature and culture. Flesh him /her out with a backstory and motivations, and then adopt that persona to write your supporting documents.
posted by codacorolla at 8:07 AM on August 24, 2013

It also helps to look at how others have attempted to do this. Some of the parameters are obvious--setting, choice of vocabulary, sentence structure, emotional tone--but you also don't want to make it so obvious that that is what you're doing. You want to hide the "technique" so it doesn't distract from the effect or make it a caricature. Here is an example ( a little over the top, I admit).
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:29 AM on August 24, 2013

Building on the "read aloud" suggestion, you could even go so far as to act the text to yourself, with expression, gesture and all. Especially seeing as you're asking about a theatrical genre. (But this could help with mimicking narrative prose too: "voice" is part of a narratorial persona, and the better you can channel that imagined person as a whole, the better you will imitate their storytelling style.)

On a different tack, every author (or in your case, more likely translator) has certain verbal tics they're prone to -- words, phrases and sentence structures that they have a particular affinity for using. Read through your text with a view to noticing these explicitly and making a list.

(Or, you could just steal from this classic parody of Greek drama.)
posted by zeri at 10:36 AM on August 24, 2013

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