A to Z Blogging Challenge: Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

April 11, 2016

A to Z Blogging Challenge: I

Art imitates life. No, wait. That’s not what I meant to say. I imitate art.

Probably a little more accurate.

There’s some snobbery in the writing community about having your own voice. Don’t get me wrong: I do not approve of plagiarizing. However, there’s a huge difference between plagiarizing and using something for inspiration.

Art students often start by mimicking the Masters. Musicians frequently try to copy their idols (why else would American Idol have made it through fifteen seasons?). When writers try out another writer’s voice, though, there’s generally some outrage.

“Fan fiction is bad!”

“Writing like someone else is bad!”

“Bad. Bad! BAD!”

Bah humbug.

Copying a writer’s voice, like anything else, is how you learn. Sometimes, it’s how you make a living, especially if you’re a satirist or write parody. There are writers who make really good money as ghost writers learning to copy someone’s voice. But there should be limits.

  1. Use copying someone’s voice to a humorous effect. Parody is generally considered fair use (although I’m not a lawyer and the Figment lawyers hate me, so they wouldn’t give me any advice).
  2. Use copying someone else’s voice for practice. Whether you write fan fiction or flat-out try to rewrite something that’s already been published, there’s nothing wrong with using it for practice. Just don’t publish it. (Note: Amazon has some exceptions to this, but I haven’t tried out their fan fiction area, so I can’t say much more than “it exists”.)
  3. Use works that are out of copyright as the basis for a new story (I’m looking at you, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), but be sure to make the new story still your own. Just because it’s legal to reuse the work doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Unless you have a good twist to it, leave it be.

Imitation is a sincere form of flattery… just be sure you flatter in a legal and ethical manner.

Have you ever used other works in your stories (like I use Alice in Wonderland)? How about for inspiration?


  • Stephanie Faris April 12, 2016 at 11:23 am

    This reminds me of the time when I first started writing and auditioned to write for Sweet Valley High…TWICE. I really wanted to get in. But competition was fierce (even though it only paid $1,000) and I guess my voice wasn’t quite “it.” It’s a lot harder to mimic someone else’s voice than people realize!

    • Zanzibar7 April 12, 2016 at 3:37 pm

      It’s VERY hard. I write parody and I had one section where I was only writing in other writers’ voices. Argh! Harder than the whole rest of the book!

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