So, yes, there is a post missing from this blog. If you’ve been here recently, you know what I’m talking about: I read a story online that seemed very similar to one of my own, and expressed my feelings about the experience. I did not think (and still don’t) that I was out of line with what I wrote. I shared my impressions and feelings and I stand by those. But, as tends to happen on the interwebs, things got a little twisted around and I don’t think the original intention of my post was clear enough.
That said, I think this has sparked some wonderful conversation and I’d love for that to keep going. So let’s shift the discussion. As many people have said, we all “borrow” from writers we admire and I’d like to keep talking about that, regardless of whether something was borrowed from me. So, how does borrowing work? When does it not work? What’s okay to “borrow” and what isn’t?
When I was teaching myself how to write stories, I would look at a story I admired and make a list of its scenes. Scene 1: Husband and wife argue about something they’re going through. Scene 2: Husband at work. Scene 3: Husband and wife having dinner. And so on. Then I would write my own story with a different plot, different characters, different language, and a different “point”, but the same kinds of scenes. Of course, none of those stories saw the light of day, but that kind of direct imitation exercise was crucial in helping me learn the rhythm and pacing of a short story.
Now when I “borrow” from other writers it’s on a much more abstracted level. Maybe I’ll learn a different kind of metaphor, or realize something new about dialogue beats. I will take the thing apart in my head and put it back together again, figuring out how it works.
There are still lots of kinds of writing that I would like to learn to do well. I would love to figure out the lyric essay and what makes it tick. I’ve never really nailed the “250 words and under” arena of short-short story writing. What about you all? How do you learn a new genre of writing?