Reading’s Influence on Writing Style

Have you ever noticed that sometimes reading or watching something changes the way you talk or write? For me, I can’t help but notice that every time I sit down to write after watching Doctor Who that some British phrasing tries to slip its way in. It’s not the slang or the vocabulary differences, no, but the way the British phrase things is just slightly different than the way Americans phrase things, and this is what I notice trying to slip in.

(Once, as a teenager, I typed for three hours in pseudo-Shakespearean on the internet. When I got off for the night, I found I couldn’t stop and was doing it in real life as well. My mother thought I’d gone mad. I figured it was just best to go to bed and hope it wore off overnight.)

(Which, obviously it did, or this blog would be much more of a chore to read.)

(Verily.)

I’m kind of a horrible sink for this sort of thing. If immersed in an accent/dialect I pick it up almost immediately. My family can sometimes tell what I’ve been reading lately based purely on speech patterns. One time, at Space Camp, the entire group managed to pick up a Mississippian accent that became especially pronounced during periods of stress. (Admittedly, nothing is funnier than a Pakistani kid with a sudden Southern accent. Oh man.)

Voice is a very important thing for writers. It’s something that defines not only your story but you as an author. I’ve been doing this madness for long enough that I can tell when I’m messing up my own voice (say, with British phraseology), but I also sometimes find it fun to try on other voices and styles for size. It’s a neat exercise, especially for short stories.

Because I’m a sink, I only have to immerse myself in a style or voice I want to copy for a short while. If you’re a writer, you might give it a try as well. Not only is it an interesting exercise from a voice/style standpoint, but it can reveal things about your writing and your thought process that aren’t immediately apparent from your normal procedures.

Anything that gives you a better understanding of yourself as a writer and the craft in general can’t be bad, right?

What about you, Squiders? Do you find yourself changing your speech/writing patterns after being exposed to others? Is there something specifically that gets you every time? (Austen and early 18th century novels in general are a weakness of mine, voice-wise.) Have any fun voice/style-related exercises to share with the class?

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by E. A. Hughes on 2014/03/18 at 4:38 PM

    Definitely. My enormous problem is writing when the missus is watching TV. A while back an entire (incredibly dramatic) chapter was scuppered because we had been watching the finale of Desperate Housewives at the time, and upon second reading I was startled to find that all my characters were behaving like hysterical middle-aged women. Which none of them were. These days I try to write with headphones in (but no music, because that influences the tone …)

    Reply

    • I tend to write while the husband plays video games, which can be hit or miss for the same reason. Right now the game he’s playing is the same genre that I’m writing, so it’s working okay. 😉

      Noise-cancelling headphones, or regular ones? Because I sometimes write with headphones on, nothing going, just because it seems more efficient somehow.

      Reply

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