Earlier this week, my friend Susan asked if it was just her, or did other people find that what they were reading influenced how they wrote?
I find that for me, this is absolutely true. I'll even share pieces from older drafts of Roselyn's Legacy, because hey, if you can't laugh at yourself...
It all starts when I read a historical biography.
My writing takes on a very factual tone. I do not use 'fluffy' words, and my writing is very succinct. In this phase, I will write more descriptions than character interactions. Because of the tone, they will be dry descriptions. It is possible that I will forget what contractions are.
I may write something that looks like this:
It had been a tragic accident. Richard was on a hunt with his men in the woods north of Cartha's capital, when his horse became spooked. His men said that Richard's skull cracked against a sharp boulder, and that his soul departed within moments.
But from historical biography, I transition to historical fiction, or perhaps an older novel.
Upon finishing one of these superb pieces of fiction, my writing takes on a tone of an entirely different quality. I find glee in phrasing things in a more amusing manner, possibly using unique vocabulary choices to give it an 'air'.
In practice, here's what happens:
Oh, but my lady, flowers come to life in the spring, and the fields become a rainbow of color. In the summer, the ladybugs hold their own masques with the crickets and play symphonies among the tall grass. In the fall, the leaves become like jewels in the trees, rubies and blazing topaz strung together with the brightest gold. Obviously I’ve never seen it in winter, but I imagine it’s peaceful, blanketed under all that snow.
It's about this time that I will want to read something light, like "chick-lit".
My characters might get chatty about this time, and they sure develop a sense of humor! Even the, like, super cranky ones are full of wit. Any attempt at writing cleanly goes out the window as adverbs come in style like a new pair of neon scrunchies! I try to be extra smart and add in puns that don't belong or do "sneaky" foreshadowing. I definitely get a casual tone, which isn't always appropriate for the setting, but whatever because it's my book, LOL.
“That makes me see things a lot differently. Is the King secretly employing anyone else that I should be aware of? Do bakers lace their bread with loyalty serum?”
“It’s still better than being inside,” Roselyn muttered, “Most of the palace smells foul. It’s like the breath of every dead King of Cartha has been trapped in the building for centuries.”
No lie, in the draft that both of the above quotes came from, there is a four page, in character rant about hair dye. Thankfully, that was five years and many edits ago.
I don't share this to terrify other writers. It takes a while to find your voice as a writer, and that voice will likely change from project to project. You might think that the solution would be to swear off books while writing something of your own. But one of the most common pieces of advice I see is to read read read.
I've found that the way to counteract outside voices is not to read less, but read more. In the past few months, I've been reading through at least two books at a time, finishing on average a book every 7-10 days. The two books are never in the same genre, and are very far apart in tone and subject matter. It didn't start off as an intentional decision, but I've found that this rapid fire method lets me enjoy the books, glean information, and not get too swept up in the author's style.
I also recommend not just reading authors whose style you'd like to learn from, but those who are completely different, to expand your palate. I find I am a lot more likely to adopt a style when it's an author I admire.
However, there's good news: even if you can't shake the copy bug, this is why the revision process exists. You can always go back and edit for tone. Read and re-read, and if it helps, read out loud.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a Tudor history book to finish reading. Tomorrow, Roselyn might be feeling a lot more factual.