Creative Imitation

Imitating the writing of others can help you improve your own writing. For this assignment, you will examine passages from expert stylists and try to emulate them. You will substitute different subject matter but try to imitate the exact grammatical structures, lengths and rhythms of the sentences, and the tones of the original.

Begin by carefully analyzing the style of the original passage. Consider how choices about sentence length and complexity, vocabulary, figures of speech, voice, tone, and so forth contribute to the style. Jot down all the specific observations you can make about the stylistic features of the passage.

Then, explore a new topic using the sentence structures and kinds of words used in the original. Try to imitate the original phrase by phrase and sentence by sentence.

Sample Creative Imitation:

Original Passage Creative Imitation
Then came puberty and hunkhood. Over the last few years, the boys’ domestic skills have atrophied because handmaidens have appeared en masse. The damsels have driven by, beeped, phoned, and faxed. Some appeared so frequently outside the front door they began to remind me of the suction-footed Garfields spread-eagled on car windows. While the girls varied according to height, hair color, and basic body type, they shared one characteristic. They were ever eager to help the guys out. Then came prosperity and popularity. Over the last ten years, Seattle’s special charms have faded because expansion had occurred too rapidly. Traffic has multiplied, thickened, amplified, and slowed. Traffic jams appeared so often on the freeways and arterials they began to remind me of ants swarming over spilled syrup. While the congestion varied according to time, seasons, and weather conditions, it had one dominant effect. It increasingly threatened to spoil the city’s beauty.
– Victoria Register-Freeman,
“My Turn: Hunks and Handmaidens”

Write creative imitations of TWO of the following four passages.

Care of the Seasick

Seasickness makes you lethargic, weak, down at the mouth, and hopeless, in addition to dizzy and prone to vomit. It makes you want to roll through the lifelines and slip into the waves to end the horrible condition that flesh is heir to. You may not care if the fuel needs checking, the sails need trimming, or the navigation needs updating. It can make you furious with yourself for being out there at all, so furious that you don’t care if you are wet and cold, hungry and dehydrated, or drifting into harm’s way.

Queene Hooper Foster
Boating Etiquette. New York: Hearst, 2005, page 89.

King James I

James was nervous, deeply nervous. He could relax, toy with abstruse scholarly questions, get drunk, fondle his handsome male favorites, lose himself in the peculiar joy of killing animals. He could, in the right mood, laugh at himself and be teased, even quite coarsely. But he could never entirely escape the terror that haunted him. Attempts to delight him with firework displays or surprises tended to go awry; chance events could conjure up horrible memories of his past; and though he was an ardent hunter, he could never learn to fence, because the sight of a drawn sword would suddenly send him into a panic.

Stephen Greenblatt
Will in the World. New York: Norton, 2004, page 333.

Hollins Pond

Twenty minutes from my house, through the woods by the quarry and across the highway, is Hollins Pond, a remarkable piece of shallowness, where I like to go at sunset and sit on a tree trunk. Hollins Pond is also called Murray’s Pond; it covers two acres of bottomland near Tinker Creek with six inches of water and six thousand lily pads. In winter, brown-and-white steers stand in the middle of it, merely dampening their hooves; from the distant shore they look like miracle itself, complete with miracle’s nonchalance. Now, in summer, the steers are gone. The water lilies have blossomed and spread to a green horizontal plane that is terra firma to plodding blackbirds, and tremulous ceiling to black leeches, crayfish, and carp.

Annie Dillard
“Living Like Weasles” Sisters of the Earth. Ed. Lorraine Anderson. New York: Vintage Books, 1991: 106-111.

The Boys’ Ambition

When I was a boy, there was but one permanent ambition among my comrades in our village on the west bank of the Mississippi River. That was, to be a steamboatman. We had transient ambitions of other sorts, but they were only transient. When a circus came and went, it left us all burning to become clowns; the first negro minstrel show that came to our section left us all suffering to try that kind of life; now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates. These ambitions faded out, each in its turn; but the ambition to be a steamboatman always remained.

Mark Twain
Life on the Mississippi. (1883) Chapter 4.

Due: Friday, March 21

Writing Exercises

Page Last Updated: 22 July 2017