Emulation: How Much Is Too Much?

Roland standing by the Dark Tower and the Can'...

Roland standing by the Dark Tower and the Can’-Ka No Rey. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We all have our favorite books as writers.  All of us have that author we would aspire to write like and have the successes that that particular writer has had.  One problem that plagues many amateur writers is their self-imposed need to be exactly like “so and so” because that author is successful or has had best-selling accolades.

Of course, some times this works out for them as in the case of E.L. James and 50 Shades of Gray or Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy  novels.  Sure.  If you like that sort of thing.  However, at what point do you write like yourself and break out of emulation (and in some cases down right copying) to find your own voice?

First of all, emulate is defined by good old Webster’s as to “match or surpass (a person or achievement), typically by imitation”.  Sure I would like to write an epic set of novels like Tolkien’s or write great science fiction like Orson Scott Card, but I first need to understand what my own voice might be and try to hone that into something unique.

Are we, after all, only products of the writers we love?  It took Stephen King a long time to find his own voice as a writer (since he basically started out lampooning his own high school teachers) but King knew great literature since he taught high school composition while working on Carrie while also holding down a job at a laundry to support his wife and first child (heh, sounds a bit like me).  If one reads his novels from that first novel mentioned to the most recent offerings like The Dome  and The Wind Through the Keyhole, one can watch the progression of King’s voice as a writer and also notice the ties that he has to classical literature/storytelling.  When examining a list of King’s top 10 favorite books, we can see why he writes the way he does and that he is emulating such great writers as Frank Norris, Mark Twain and William Golding.  King is a fantastic example of someone who emulates the humor of Twain, the darkness of Frank Norris and the despairing fear of William Golding all the while doing so with his own unique voice.

I am currently pouring through King’s Dark Tower series again, and it is inspiring me to move forward with a series of books that I have always wanted to toy with.  I will finish the current WIP (the time travel novel) but after that I will delve into the world of a bumbling biographer and the subject of his frightening adventures, a man who is a cross between Batman, Clint Eastwood and Jack Reacher.  It will not be Dark Tower at all, but have thematic elements of the Mad Max films, the stark and absurdist humor of Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett, the frightening yet joyful darkness of Stephen King and the spirituality of C.S. Lewis.

In so doing, I will not simply be making a copy of a book that I love, but broadening out my palette to include many of the writers that I know and love, creating my own unique art but at the same time paying tribute to those whirling dervishes of the pen who never fail to cause me to wonder and dream and find my own way.

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