Friday Writing Exercise: Elements of (someone else’s) Style 0 Comments

Friday Writing Exercise: Elements of (someone else’s) Style

The notion of style is thrown around a lot, but unless we’re talking about those obvious luminaries such as David Foster Wallace or Raymond Carver, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where their style begins, and where yours should too. An abundance of commas? Looking for ampersands?

This is an experiment to give you a sense of the differences between a writer’s style and your own interpretation. Obviously there’s many different ways to explore the one thing, and this will take advantage of that.

• Pick a writer (I’m going to be using Dave Eggers, because he’s a babe).
• Find a section of their writing that stands out to you.
• Read it once and then put the book down and wait a little while.
• Then write that section out, without overthinking it, however the phrasing comes to you.
• Compare differences in phrasing and structure between your copy and the original.

Eggers has these weird postmodern reflections on the narrative in his short stories and says things like:
“This story is equally or more about surfing. People are no more interesting than waves or mountains.”

Which I actually wrote was:
‘The story is equally about surfing. People are as interesting as waves or mountains.’

God lord Raf, you call that assessing my style?

God lord Raf, you call that assessing my style?

If you find this too easy, or have a better memory than me, pick a longer section, even a paragraph, so you’re forced out of short term memory and into having to phrase it in your own words. I read a nice paragraph and then finished the page and tried to go back and recreate it. See if you can guess which is Eggers’ and which is mine.

“The only graffiti she’d ever felt thought-provoking was a line she’d seen in a bathroom stall, sex invented God, it had said. As strange as it sounds, after seeing it, this was the lens through which she saw the world. For her, all her epiphanies started in the skin.”

“The only graffiti she had ever found thought-provoking was the line she’d seen again and again in bathrooms: Sex invented God. Each time she saw those words, for hours afterward, it was the way she saw the world, as stupid as she felt about it. She loved her life, but the only transcendent experience she’d had began with provocation of her skin.”

This showed me that I intrinsically dislike repetition, that where possible I’ll try to shorten things down, and that I still have this wanky fascination with writing about the ‘lens of the world’. It also shows me that Eggers has longer sentences, although they’re not necessarily more descriptive. If there are any asides within the sentence, he’ll let them nudge their way in through commas, where I predominately give them a sentence of their own, or use brackets.

Part of this harks back to my theory on the beneficial nature of mishearings because I’m big on the repurposing possibilities of mistakes, reimaginings, and making something your own.

Mmm. Now that’s good style.

Mmm. Now that’s good style.


Rafael’s (23) purpose is to give people glorious stories to tell. Some have appeared in dotdotdash, Going Down Swinging and The Big Issue Fiction Edition. He also competes in poetry slams and giant-sized chess games. Graduated from RMIT’s creative writing program in 2012, he often wonders what he’ll do with the rest of his life, but the answer’s always the same. Writing and falling in love. 

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