One of my favorite exercises during grad school was to write essays that emulated the style of a specific author. My advisor (and all around amazing person and writer), Cathy Alter, had us read a nonfiction memoir and then, to the best of our ability, recreate that writer’s voice and style using our own words and topics.
It started off rough; trying to understand and then properly execute a writer’s style is like trying to guess the ingredients of an Iron Chef dish by only tasting a small portion during dinner. There are so many elements to work with, and a nebulous je ne sais quoi unique to each writer that makes 3D printing their prose a labor in dedicated and careful study, not just casual keyboard jockery.
But after some practice, I got better, and found that by analyzing other writers at a deep, intimate level, my own writing improved. It had the added bonus of teaching me to respect a large range of styles, and understand there is no one best way to present your story.
I’m nearly two years removed from grad school, and I miss those little exercises.
The obvious conclusion, “why not bring them back on the blog?”
Which of course lead to, “how do I emulate another writer’s style but also include beer?”
Enter: Nom de Bier – where iconic authors review beers!
Or, um, I try to recreate their styles and write a beer review in homage to said writer.
Originally, I had planned to do it on my own; randomly pick ten or so of my favorite authors and imagine how they’d review a beer. But one of the best parts about the grad school exercise was that I was forced to read new, different authors, outside of my comfort genres and usual literary wheelhouse.
So I made it social:
— Oliver Gray (@OliverJGray) August 17, 2015
I did not expect 27 retweets. I’m fantastically excited that people seemed interested in this idea, and even more excited that I’ve now got an extensive, Twitter-friend built reading list. My Kindle is about to get abused in the best possible way.
When trying to emulate an author, there are three major aspects to capture:
- Voice (this is the hardest part, and requires a bit of biographical research to know when and where the writer came from)
- Syntax and sentence structure (this one feeds into voice: Hemingway, for example, penned his novels using a very specific syntactical method that many now recognize as part of his style)
- Literary themes (easy enough to pick up on; much harder to execute)
Below is the list of requesters and their favorite authors (if I missed you, shoot me a tweet or email). Given that I have a lot of reading to do to truly understand these writers, I may do them out of order as I play catch up on some I’ve read less (or none) of. I may also warm up with some of my favorites, too, just to get into the swing of things before tackling some of the crazier ones on this list.
- Keith Mathias @KWMathias – Cormac McCarthy
- Josh Christie @jchristie – Mary Roach
- Aaron O – BottleFarm @theBottleFarm – Hunter S. Thompson
- Raising the Barstool @RTBarstool – Sun Tzu
- Leslie Patiño @lpatinoauthor – Harper Lee
- I think about beer @ithinkaboutbeer – Mikhaíl Bulgakov
- Andrew @DasAleHaus – R.L. Stine
- michaelstump @_stump – William S. Burroughs
- The Beermonger @The_Beermonger – Michael Chabon
- Tony @DrinksTheThings – Arthur Conan Doyle
- Douglas Smiley @BmoreBistroBeer – Douglas Adams
- Liz Murphy @naptownpint – Christopher Buckley
- Jeff Pillet-Shore @allagashjeff – Neil Gaiman
- Suvi Seikkula @seikkulansuvi – Edgar Alan Poe
- cassie @lastxfantasy – Johnathan L. Howard
- Xtian Paula
@drowningn00b – Haruki Murakami
- ‘rissa @ScoginsBitch – Irvine Welsh
- Fayettebrew @fayettebrew – Chuck Palahniuk
- J. R. Shirt @Beeronmyshirt – John Steinbeck
- Sara @DoWhat_YOU_Like – Robert Heinlein
- Nicola Chamberlain @nchamberlain – Kurt Vonnegut
- Michael P. Williams @theunfakempw – Lewis Carroll
- Heather Hedy F @Hedytf – Stephen King
- Robert record @Reach4therail – Richard Wright
@melba_dnu – Harlequin Romance Style
I’m not going to hold myself to any particular schedule, as I’ve found out that doesn’t work well for me. Or my job. Or my social life. Or my brewing plans.
If you missed the original tweet and want to add your favorite author to the list, shoot me an email at email@example.com, or tweet me at @OliverJGray. Assuming I don’t spontaneously combust, or you don’t offer some very obscure, highly niche writer, I’ll get to your request eventually!
(And yes, I am still writing “December, 1919,” and working actively on Homegrew. Posts regarding both coming soon)