Why Copying isn't a Dirty Word
Your Royal Snarkiness,
Along with several million other readers, I happen to love the work of a fiction author whose craft leaves something to be desired. This author most recently hit the NYT bestseller list about five years ago. Most of her novels have enjoyed this distinction.
The thing is, her novels in no way resemble what is conventionally deemed "great writing." Her turgid prose contains long passages of scene, tons of "telling, not showing" in describing characters, POV shifts within a paragraph, etc. Despite this, she is a best selling author.
I would like to write the same type of novels this author does. (I think this type of novel is described as "place" or "cottage" fiction.) Since she's a best seller, would I in any way benefit from emulating her style? Should I do so, I imagine myself facing the wrath of agents who splutter in indignation over my lack of basic writing skills. Am I wrong here?
Well, I have no idea. You wouldn't get through the door here, but you wouldn't want to. I don't read that kind of book, and I don't represent it. That said, there are agents who do and they are the ones you want to ask.
On the general subject of emulation: When you are learning to write I think it's a very very smart idea to really study one writer you respect. Study a particular book so closely you actually count words, diagram sentences, outline plot. When you see the guts of a book you learn how the author constructed it. Then you can copy that structure. As you do that, you'll learn. It's the same way we learn to do almost everything: watch someone who knows how then copy them.
Now, the writing that you do in this effort may not be the novel you send to me. Every great novelist (and by this I don't just mean those stiffs who get nominated for big fat prizes and get talked about in the Times) has about three books under their bed. Don't be afraid to practice.
It's not failure to practice. It's actually the only way to get good.
And lest you think I don't respect "cottage" books, think again. I have several friends who read them and love them. Some of those friends work low level jobs and have pretty rough lives. Those books are their escape. And some of those friends are high level executives who could buy and sell Miss Snark, Killer Yapp and the entire bathtub gin set up here at Snark Central. The books are escape for them too. Just cause I read murder mysteries for my escape fiction doesn't make me any better than people who read other things. Plenty of stuff I read is crap, and I love it.