Mimicry is the best form of flattery

As lockdown rules within the UK have continued to ease, I have found myself in the car for longer periods, either going to and from work, or increasingly on trips out with the wife. While I am not a fan of driving (it is no coincidence commuting and traffic formed frequent inspiration for pieces in my short story collection A Tale in Few Words), it has meant I have had more time to work through my collection of audiobook CDs.

My current choices are the first two books of Ken Follett’s Kingsbridge Series; The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. For those of you who have not read Follett’s books, these two are historical fiction pieces set in an invented English town of Kingsbridge in the 12th and 14th centuries respectively.

Historically (sorry…), historical fiction has not been high on my reading list. I love studying and reading about history, but fiction based on true events in the past has never been something I have sought out. If I had ever spent the time to consider why, I might have decided something along the lines of real history being interesting enough without needing to invent new stories, but I am not sure I ever gave it a moment’s thought. Historical fiction was not for me.

Long term fans of the blog will know my views on historical fiction (and other genres) changed markedly just before the start of the pandemic last year (remember a time before the pandemic…?!) when I was recommended a book of historical fiction by my wife. Since then, I have read a couple of books set in the past, including Hannah Kent’s second book The Good People, as well as Odinn’s Child by Tim Severin and now Follett’s books.

These latest books I have particularly enjoyed. In part I am sure this is thanks to the dulcet tones of Richard E. Grant, but most of all I have loved the story and the mix of familiar historical details alongside the fictional tale.

What did surprise me when I began listening to The Pillars of the Earth; Follett’s writing style. It was the first book of his I had read (or listened to), and I was struck by the simplistic and uncomplicated style of his prose. Much of his writing consists of simple sentences with a single clause, while compound sentences are used sparing and to good effect. When it comes to word choice, Follett is not afraid to keep things simple as well. Why pick from fifty different ways to say the word said for example, when said will do just nicely.

As you have probably guessed from my writing, keeping things simple is not my strong point. I am well aware I can have clauses on top of clauses (with parenthesis giving me the chance to push a sentence to the limits of what a language allows). Follett’s style was so different to what I am used to reading and writing, I even found myself checking whether the book was written for young adults or even children. Had I waited a few chapters for the sex scenes and swearing I might have saved myself the time.

At the same time as I am listening to Follett’s books, I have also been working on writing a new book myself. I had plotted this book out some time ago (possibly over a year ago, I cannot quite remember) and decided to get the first draft completed earlier this year.

So far, it has been slow progress. The more I think through my plot, the more I love the story idea, but getting it down on paper was proving a challenge. I say was, because over the last week or so my motivation is back and I have been powering through the pages.

What has changed? My writing style. Inspired by Ken Follett and his style of writing, I have been trying to create my first draft along the same lines, and it appears to be working. In the first month or so of writing the book I had managed three chapters. In just this last week I have doubled that. More over, I am loving the writing process and the story I am created. Changing writing style mid-draft might sound like a foolish idea, but it seems to have reinvigorated my writing and I intend to continue as I complete the book.

It is not uncommon when starting out as a writer to be advised to read lots, but at the same time write with your own style and avoid trying to mimic others. I have always found these pieces of advice a little contradictory. While I am not aiming to replicate Follett’s style exactly, using some of the techniques common in his writing has helped me with my current project significantly, and will be part of this piece moving forwards. Who knows, maybe one day this change in style will find a way into this blog as well. Not today, obviously, but maybe someday…

If you are struggling to get a draft of your own down on paper, it might be worth considering a change to your writing style to get things going again. I could recommend Ken Follett as inspiration, but I am sure you will have a favoured author of your own to turn to. And if you do give the idea a try, let me know how it goes in the comments below. What style have you chosen, how did you find the writing and where can we read your pieces?

Most of all happy Monday and happy writing!

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