I sometimes absorb writing styles from my reading, then use that voice in my head as I’m thinking to myself.
Do other people do this?
The most recent example was the other night when I started The Twelve, by Justin Cronin. The title came to me via some reading list so I had no idea who Justin Cronin is or what kind of novel The Twelve might be; like most fiction I’ve read over the past three years I simply started reading and waited to see what I thought of it.
The voice Cronin uses is in the first chapter is declamatory, with short, clear, sometimes blunt phrases and sentences. I was just into Chapter Two when I turned off my cell phone (my Ereader) and lay down. I found myself thinking—about what I don’t remember—but using the same voice as Cronin was writing with. In other words, the sentences could have been written by Cronin for this novel, or, at least imho, at that time of night.
The most common example of this absorption process occurs when I take the bus. In my bag I always carry a recent issue of The New Yorker. The New Yorker is largely non-fiction, and its writing often has a particular style, or flavor, or voice. They love long, detailed, yet clear statements and descriptions. And more than once, after closing the magazine and getting off the bus I find myself using “New Yorker” sentences in my thinking.
My aunt once complained about her hometown friends making fun of her accent, because in spite of having lived in Texas for a number of years, she didn’t think she had one. It’s probably a similar process to my reading voice adoption, only quicker to absorb and thereby more temporary? How quick and how temporary is unclear because I’ve been exposed to New Yorker writing off and on for years, and it’s possible that I’ve read similar styles to Cronin’s writing, making me more prone to finding it familiar and easy to adopt. And, I’m sure, the New Yorker writing has affected my thinking voice long term to some degree.
I used to be able to do this musically as well. In my days of MIDI composition I could catch a tiny smidge of music from a radio or from the headphones of a passerby, then improvise off it in my head, taking elements that I liked; emotion, style of pulse, feel, and generating a new eight or sixteen bar fragment that would be the building block of a new composition. And the reason that I only wanted to hear as short a fragment as possible—no more than a few seconds—is to avoid hearing their music, which would distract me from where I might want to go with it. My technical music comprehension is well beyond what is required for the folk-country-pop-rock-dance music I was hearing from the radio so building my music was easy, but because I rarely listen to the musical styles I was emulating, the results were always a little outside the norm for the style. Partly as a result, they often seem sarcastic, as if I’m making fun of the genre; not usually my intention.
My fiction writing skills are not nearly so advanced, and my fiction reading and acceptance is more diverse that my music listening. Also, it seems that I can tolerate mediocre writing and genres that I’m not enamored with more easily in fiction than in music. Music penetrates more deeply, more quickly and without effort or even a willingness on my part. I can speed read or skip passages if I’m bored and stop and start as I please when I read, but there’s no easy way to hide from distasteful music.