The Art of Writing No. 42

I mentioned plagiarism.
There is a form of it which divides writers down the middle. It can be subtle, invasive and even contaminating. It revolves around the issue of whether a novelist should read other writers’ fiction during the process of making a novel.  There are many writing manuals which focus on a writer’s need to read quality fiction in order to develop good habits rather like student artists being made to copy famous paintings in order to understand the strategies that great artists employ. I saw a documentary on Jack Cardiff, the finest cinematographer ever, who studied paintings in order to understand how light works to dramatic advantage on celluloid. The better the fiction, the more it instructs, though I feel that the process is one of immersive osmosis rather than direct imitation. What I mean is that the brain is so complex that it will mix your range of reading in a melange and bring out your improved literary expression. Read Timothy Galway’s The Inner Game of Tennis  to understand this. He argues that by merely watching another player, the brain assimilates so much information it reproduces good strokes in a way that pedantic, step by step teaching cannot achieve.
For myself, reading other authors while I am writing fiction is a no-no. Inevitably (because I am competitive!) I am constantly comparing my work with theirs and it slows me down. I also find myself with the wrong ‘voice’ in my head, that of a character in another author’s work. I use expressions which I know are borrowed.
Establishing your own literary identity is a hard won battle with every book you have ever read. My advice is to leave a gap between the last fiction you have read before starting writing, read non-fiction or listen to music or do a Cardiff and view art, anything to dislodge the last exciting chapters from your mind! It is only through time that your unique qualities will show and no-one will be able to point to unconscious plagiarism.
I wrote Through a Mirror Clear: a Gothic Love Story(as Eric le Sange rather than Jack Sanger) because I was irritated by a Julian Barnes novella winning the Booker Prize for literature. I felt it was mechanical and artificial. There was little in it which was organic and truly of the heart. Not that I want you to compare the books, just to underline the effect that reading others’ work can have. We are private individuals are we not? We live in our fantasy universe and have to deal with whatever comes our way. I make sure now that these incursions are not from the prose of another artist!
Through a Mirror Clear: a Gothic love Story by Eric le Sange Kindle Amazon
Azimuth by Jack Sanger in paperback at
Azimuth by Jack Sanger in three separate books on Kindle Amazon

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