When it comes to telling a story, the what is essential in the sense that it defines your work, but what will take it to the next level is the how.
Style is essential to success because it is what differentiates you. When people read a book, it’s perfectly fine to see influences although it’s not so cool when it really feels as if it reads as if an author is just trying to emulate someone else. Stylistic plagiarism is just as bad as with content and to be honest, it’s always better to follow what drives you and the topics that inspire you than to write what sells.
Some people have said I did good in writing about vampires in Only Human because vampires are a hot topic, except there’s one catch. I didn’t write a vampire book, I didn’t use a ten bullet point system of things Anne Rice or Stephanie Meyer did, I wrote a book from the gut with topics, characters and scenarios that resonate with me. I just happened to include vampires. In short, I didn’t use someone else’s stylistic map to get to my destination.
So how do you develop your style? That is the end all to writing questions because it’s at the same time the easiest and hardest thing to develop in your skills. It is the easiest because it only asks that you be true to yourself. It’s the hardest for the same reason. Being true to your voice is hard because you will often be invited to write differently, to omit something to tweak something and although good advice and good editing are vital to an excellent story, you have to know when to commit to your vision and your voice regardless of the consequences.
It sounds scary, though honestly it isn’t. It’s only scary at first because you’re not used to it. What you have to ask about your story and how you tell it is one basic question, when people read this and meet you, will they hear your voice, will they see you taking the deliberate time and putting emphasis on the details that matter to you?
I think it’s better to understand this concept through music. If you’ve ever heard Tool, you know that very few bands before them sound like them. Afterwards though? That’s another story.
Take the time to listen to tracks from Tool, tracks by Chevelle and tracks by Earshot. You will see similarities in style and approach (although talent-wise, it’s never a good idea to match up against a band of Tool’s caliber). Still, you see what Chevelle and Earshot are trying to do and although they play their guts out, you see way too much of the influence in their music.
The same goes for writing.
I love Tolkien, Frank Herbert, Neil Gaiman, CS Lewis and JK Rowling; I truly do. Now I would never want to be the next Tolkien, Frank Herbert, Neil Gaiman, CS Lewis or JK Rowling. I am me, JD Estrada, I have my voice and I will not back down from the visions, dreams, nightmares and stories I have to share with you, because neither did they, and neither should you.
Don’t compromise. Write the way you want to write and when in doubt, look to your heart compass and follow the needle wherever it points.