One thing creative writing classes try to teach their students is how to mimic the styles of famous authors.
I think that’s pretty smart. After all, one way to ensure a writer can make informed decisions about the different aspects of their own writing style is to see if they can pick up on and identify the alchemy of other writers’ styles.
I’ve never taken Creative Writing, but I’m taking Lit 110 this semester. As a result, I’ve recently read some short stories that are considered ‘classics’ by the powers that be:
A & P – John Updike
Story of an Hour – Kate Chopin
A Rose for Emily – William Faulkner
A Party Down at the Square – Ralph Ellison
Everyday Use – Alice Walker
Shiloh – Bobbie Ann Mason
Araby – James Joyce
The Man Who Was Almost a Man – Richard Wright
Sweat – Zora Neale Hurston
Good Country People – Flannery O’Conner
The Guest – Albert Camus
Hills Like White Elephants – Ernest Hemingway
In the American Society – Gish Jen
Woman Hollering Creek – Sandra Cisneros
The Red Convertible – Louise Erdrich
I’ll admit I have little patience for old movies and less patience still for old, archaic prose.
To make matters worse, a good portion of the stories featured irritating dialogue, where the writers tried to phonetically transcribe ‘slack-jawed’ or other variant dialect, which made reading them horribly laborious.
But a few were pleasant surprises, such as Araby and The Guest. And every one of these authors had radically different styles, so it was kinda fun to pick up their quirks and nuances while reading.
The point of all this is I tried rewriting the ending to Mr. Updike’s short story, A & P (circa 1930), mimicking his style as best as I could.
Don’t worry, what you’re about to read isn’t a spoiler ‘cuz I changed the outcome. :P
I take over for Updike after the italics:
I thought and said “No” but it wasn’t about that I was thinking. I go through the punches, 4, 9, GROC, TOT—it’s more complicated than you think, and after you do it often enough, it begins to make a little song, that you hear words to, in my case “Hello (bing) there, you (gung) happy peepul (splat)!”—the splat being the drawer flying out. I uncrease the bill, tenderly as you may imagine, it just having come from between the two smoothest scoops of vanilla I had ever known were there, and pass a half and a penny into her narrow pink palm, and nestle the herrings in a bag and twist its neck and hand it over, all the time thinking.
The girls, and who’d blame them, are in a hurry to get out, so I say “I quit” to Lengel quick enough for them to hear, hoping they’ll stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero.
Queenie stops in the doorway, right under the exit sign, she tugs on Plaid’s strap and points my way, and Queenie’s smile is striking, her blush darker than I thought.
Lengel pleads with me, “Think about what you’re saying. What will people think? What will your parents think?”
Having the birds’ attention more than doubles my confidence. “You heard me. I quit. You didn’t have to embarrass them.”
The customers in Stoksie’s lane, even the newlywed couple in aisle six stop shopping to see what all the hubbub’s about. All eyes fix on Lengel.
Then there’s this hush-dead silence, except for the sound of the summer breeze blowing in from around Queenie and her flock—the unmistakable sounds of freedom.
I break away from Lengel’s gaze easy, like ringing up a candy bar. One advantage to this scene taking place in summer, I can follow it up with a clean exit, there’s no fumbling around to get my coat and galoshes, I just saunter into view of the electric eye, me and my flock, and put my arm around Queenie.
And outside, we meet the ocean breeze head on.
Updike has a radically different style than I do. So yeah, that was a bit of a mind-warp for me.
Speaking of John Updike …
Steph VanderMeulen, also known ‘round these parts as Other Steph (or OS, for short), and author/webmistress of such lovely sites as EditQuest and In Other Words (which has just migrated to its own domain from WordPress, btw), has just written an ebook called Publishing Fantasy Fiction – A Beginner’s Handbook.
So what does all that have to do with Updike?
A quote-within-a-quote from her ebook:
“The infamous John Updike once wrote, ‘―I really don’t want to encourage young writers. Keep them down and out and silent is my motto.’ This kind of attitude, whether joking or not, is precisely the opposite of what I believe. More and more I am discovering and
enjoying excellent novels by writers in their twenties and thirties, or younger, and I wholeheartedly believe in fostering such talent that
more often than not borders on what I think is genius. There is enough room — whatever anyone says about the publishing industry
and the future of books — for all of us, regardless of age, when there is talent and people are willing to buy it.”
It seems Mr. Updike was none-too-keen about paying it forward to new writers. I guess that means sometimes, authors are scared of us little guys (and gals). :)
Anyway, definitely check out her uplifting ebook, and her new site if you get the chance.
Drinks all around!