Chloe Benjamin Recommends...

“When I was younger, it was dangerous to read fiction while writing it myself: Too easily, I found myself slipping into other people’s voices. I read The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides and wrote eighty pages of a terrible knock-off. I adored Alice Munro’s Open Secrets so much that I set a story in northern Ontario, a place I had never been and knew little about. I inhaled Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” and promptly produced my own version, complete with a visiting character who was deaf instead of blind. Though I look back at these pieces with embarrassment, I also know each of them had something to teach me. I learned through imitation, but it was only when I followed—or found—my own voice that I was able to derive a different kind of inspiration from reading fiction, something subtler and more expansive. Today, when I reach a wall in my own work, I turn to authors I love to remind myself what is possible: that sentence, that structure, that daring twist of plot. Now that I have a surer sense of my own style and interests, reading does not confine me to a particular approach. Instead, it enlarges my understanding of what's possible, helping me to see beyond my own habits. Reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel reminded me that a narrative arc can be made from smaller, impressionistic pieces, that every stop on a character’s journey need not be addressed. Tana French’s mysteries have shown me that language can be as propulsive as plot, and Alice Munro’s stories continue to widen my understanding of the way that time can be handled within a short story—even if I no longer set my own in Ontario.”
—Chloe Benjamin, author of The Anatomy of Dreams (Atria Books, 2014)

Photo credit: Nick Wilkes


Absolutely!  Imitation is the

Absolutely!  Imitation is the first form of flattery, right?  I think that most writers would admit to other writer's styles influencing them, if not downright propelling their story forward.  As a YA author, I am always copying John Green's style of short, choppy sentences with little description and lots of cuss words.  I love the freedom that YA offers: novels in verse, flowing fantastical descriptions, stories reading like plays.  Me: I love it.  You: Okay.  Me: Okay.    Janelle