Thoughts on Writing – Referencing Other Books For Writing Style

One of the things I’ve found helpful when writing specific scenes, especially if I’m aiming for a certain tone or voice, is to read a book with a similar style. For example, in the latest scene I’m editing for The Multiverse Chronicles, I’m working on part two of an episode that has a certain pterosaur’s point of view. In the previous episode (Episode 13: The Test – Part One), the curious pterosaur has been captured by “mangy humans.”

This is the first paragraph from one of the earlier drafts of the intro to Part Two:

 

For days, the mangy men dragged the young pterosaur around the island with their floating hut. If she could keep up, she was rewarded with fresh fish. If she failed to keep up, the pain of the chain around her neck motivated her to try harder. Eventually she got fast, and then the men started taking her to a small village on the main land.

 

Curious about what the antagonists were actually doing, I asked Isaac what he was picturing the antagonists doing (partially because I wanted to know more about the boat). He gave me a bit more detail, and I ended up taking a 700 word scene and turning it into a 1,600 word scene. (Remember what I said before about my tendency to go into detail? This is especially true when I ask him questions about a small scene, then run rampant.)

When I first tried figuring out how we might flesh this out, the imagery that came to mind was an old book. If I have my classics right, that book is Black Beauty, which I vaguely remember as a story about a horse’s life as he’s passed from owner to owner. Though I could be mixing up horse stories, I seem to remember a scene with a cruel or uncaring master, which is similar to what I wanted for this scene.

While I didn’t have a copy of Black Beauty on hand, the Goodreads page for this book had a nice-sized preview which gave me a feel for the writing style, voice, and things I might look for. In fact, reading about the horse’s “breaking” reminded me of handicapped horse races, which involved using weights to slow horses down (I was a fan of horse-racing computer games).

Thus, I wondered if the antagonists might be able to use lead weights to burden our pterosaur protagonist, intending to build her strength so she would fly faster. (Originally, they started up their steamboat and dragged her around the island, making her keep up. But when the pterosaur is mentioned later in the story as being able to fly up to 80 miles per hour without a rider, and a quick Google search revealed that an average steamboat speed was 30 miles per hour… our antagonists had to improvise.)

 

Anyhow, the first paragraph turned into something like this (still needs polishing):

 

After the young pterosaur’s capture, the mangy humans kept her chained to their floating hut. At first, she fought the chains. She snapped at the chain and flapped her wings, but the chain held fast and the boat was anchored, and she found herself pulled from the shore and into the water. Though the humans at the hatchery had kept her enclosed in their dome, they never bound her with a dirty, ragged chain, which tore at her skin and mangled her scales.

 

She was not a happy pterosaur.

 

Later that evening, the weathered man with straw-colored hair approached her with a pile of hemp rope in his hands. She shrieked at him and flared her wings, but he just smiled, revealing a set of broken teeth and grit in his wrinkled skin. The pterosaur snapped at him—let him see that her teeth were not broken! He only laughed. He dumped the rope on the sand and returned to his hut.

 

Shortly thereafter, the two men cornered her. The jeered as she tried to thwap them with her wings, and too soon they had cast a net of rope over her head. Her beak caught and her claws caught and her crest caught, too. She struggled, but the only result was to become further tangled. No escape.

 

Now that she was tethered, the weathered man knelt beside her and bound her beak so she could not bite, tied her claws so she could not scratch, and finally, strapped a leaden pad to her back.

 

They removed the net.

 

Furious, she tried to launch herself at them, only to stumble and collapse in the sand. How heavy were these weights, which prevented her from standing. She shrugged her shoulders, trying to at least sit upright. No such luck, for the weights held her down.

 

A fierce whistle pierced the air and a gust of steam rose from a metal pipe above the floating hut. What a terrible noise!

 

Then suddenly her chains lurched and she was torn into the ocean. Salty water splashed into her eyes and nostrils.

 

The floating hut moved, and the weights dragged her deeper. Her mind screamed that she could not fly, nor swim, so long as the chain held her fast. She sank, still flapping her wings, splashing.

 

This goes on for a bit before we see the end of the original paragraph with the pterosaur in the village, but hey… we get a lot more personality from the characters, more of the world, and more emotion. However, there might be some trimming in the near future. We’ll see what our beta-reader says.

The scene might not feel exactly like Black Beauty, but it isn’t meant to. I was looking for inspiration. Reading sections of a book with a style you want to mimic helps improve similar scenes as those books can give insights into the style of writing, voice, and terminology you might need.

I’ve used this technique several times. Reading Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes for the rough draft of Little One, various horror stories for Glitch, and Steelheart for final touches on Distant Horizon.

You don’t want to match the voice exactly, but seeing what other books do or don’t do well can teach you tricks to use in your own writing.

I hope you enjoyed the sneak peek of the next episode of The Multiverse Chronicles. 🙂

Have you found any books to be helpful in developing the stories you’re writing?

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