The Power of Imitation

Imitation is a great strategy to begin playing with different styles, syntax, sentence length and complexity because it forces you to immediately adapt and stretch your writing skills.

For example, look at the following selection “Hairs” from House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. She combines both short and longer sentences and uses repetition effectively to create an almost poetic style.

  • Everybody in our family has different hair. My Papa’s hair is like a broom, all up in the air. And me, my hair is lazy. It never obeys barrettes or bands. Carlos’ hair is thick and straight. He doesn’t need to comb it. Nenny’s hair is slippery — slides out of your hand. And Kiki, who is the youngest, has hair like fur.   But my mother’s hair, my mother’s hair, like little rosettes, like little candy circles all curly and pretty because she pinned it in pincurls all day, sweet to put your nose into when she is holding you, holding you and you feel safe, is the warm smell of bread before you bake it, is the smell she makes room for you on her side of the bed still warm with her skin, and you sleep near her, the rain outside falling and Papa snoring. The snoring, the rain, and Mama’s hair that smells like bread.

Joseph Conrad has a very different style in this passage from “Youth: A Narrative.”

  • He was sixty if a day; a little purchase wellbutrin online man, with a broad, not very straight back, with bowed shoulders and one leg more bandy than the other, he had a queer twisted-about appearance you see so often in men who work the fields. He had a nutcracker face–chin and nose trying to come together over a sunken mouth–and it was framed in iron-grey fluffy hair, that looked like a chin strap of cotton wool sprinkled with coal dust. And he had blue eyes in that old face of his, which were amazingly like a boys, with that candid expression some quite common men preserve to the end of their days by a rare internal gift of simplicity of heart and rectitude of soul. What induced him to accept me was a wonder.

Choose one of the above passages to imitate (or choose both).

Re-write them imitating the style and sentence order, but change the topic. You might, for example, describe your main character.

Remember the goal here isn’t to plagiarize or to try to write like Cisneros or Conrad all the time but rather to play with a different style, to practice and stretch your writing skills.

How did you do on this exercise? Was it hard? Did it force you to try something new? Can you add any of these new techniques to your own writing?

Share your experience or your sample in the comments below.

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