Style Imitation: Tis a Go or No-Go?

Some writers don’t ever develop their own style. This is (usually) not ideal. A writer’s style is a culmination of everything they’ve read and written. Someone who’s never written anything of note or read a bit will never be a great writer (or even a good writer). This is because they don’t develop their own style.

If you don’t develop your own style, you’ll never be comfortable with writing. Everything will be dull and wooden, or plagiarized. Or both. The point is that you won’t be a writer if you don’t develop your own style. But you know how to do that, right? “Read things you want to end up writing”, right? You’ve heard me say that before.


There is one special technique (and not very advanced, either) that is used in budding writers to help train them up in their own style. This technique is called (shocker, I know) “Style Imitation”.

Basically, Style Imitation consists of taking a certain author’s tone of voice, word use, and narrative style and imitating it the best they can, essentially impersonating the author, and then taking that style and writing an original work with it. The goal of such an exercise is to help inexperienced writers develop their own styles by incorporating style elements of better writers into their own.

At least, this is how it’s supposed to work. Does it always work as intended? Well, as with anything you repeat over and over for any relatively long length of time, it’s bound to have some effect. That effect is most likely to be the assimilation of the author’s style into that of the inexperienced writer.

In of itself, this isn’t a bad thing, especially if the budding novelist’s prose was especially bad to begin with. However, this can have unintended side effects: when someone is so used to copying one specific author’s style, the content of the two writers begins to align. In other words, Joey’s about to be sued for plagiarism.

You may begin to see subtle words and phrases creep into the young writer’s writing. For instance, if said young writer is studying Louis L’Amour, they begin to write exclusively write cowboy stories. Why? Because the writer they’re studying is too inclusive. (Just for information, L’Amour almost exclusively wrote western novels)

This is also owing to the problem that only one author is being studied. Inclusivity among chosen authors to study can (often, that is) lead to a young writer developing a niche, such as only being able to write science fiction or fantasy or romance. If the goal is just to be a better writer overall, the answer is not to train them up on imitating only one author.

So that’s the danger in author imitation if you’re only studying one author. Is then the solution to imitate multiple authors? Well…we’ve kind of come to a crossroads here. Imitating one author is tough, but imitating more than one will either cause the student to fall behind in his or her imitation of one certain author or simply just cause a lot more work for said writer. I think we need a new plan.

Now, don’t get me wrong: author imitation is not a bad thing. The drawbacks are thus: one, there are just better options, and two, it can potentially be harmful to the writer if continued too long and too niched (as many, many things are). But often, when used prudently, the technique can yield good, meaningful results.

However, I believe a much better option would be just to read more. Reading builds writers from scratch. And since reading authors is a lot easier (and more enjoyable) than writing imitations of said writers, the budding novelist would probably be more willing to do it. Plus, reading can cover a variety of authors’ styles better than writing can. Reading has made writers ever since Don Quixote.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Until then, writers!


Published by Van Ghalta

A cold, dark, mysterious character who purposefully wrote a story so that he could fit into it...A story where he himself WRITES stories, practices martial arts, blogs, plays airsoft, collects MTG trading cards, plays outdated video games, and writes weird, third-person bios for himself...

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