The popular jingle “If it is not Panadol it is not the same thing as Panadol” makes a lot of sense especially when viewed from a broader perspective. In reality, nothing can be as real as the real thing. No matter the quality of one’s voice, knowledge and experience in vocal music, one cannot sing a song in the exact voice of the originator of that song. At best, he can only produce a replica of the original.
Relating this to writing style, the best any writer can be is himself. One can only excel as a writer if he develops his own personal style instead of being a copycat. Writing style, which is a function of the way one uses language, is an innate tendency that is peculiar to every individual writer. According to Richard Taylor in his book, The Elements of Literature (1981), writing style “involves word choice and arrangements or patterns of phrasing”. This means that the identity of a writer is firmly established by his choice of words and the distinctive manner in which he weaves them into linguistic structures to communicate his ideas. Hence, the moment a writer begins to force his style to look like the other writer’s, he begins to lose his own identity and the uniqueness that flows from that identity.
This is not a call for a radical departure from the established literary norms or mainstream literary traditions or techniques. There is no denying the fact that no writer can escape from the universally accepted ways in which words must combine to give meaning. In the same vein, every genre of literature has standard features by which it is recognised, and from which no writer can escape. A novelist cannot break away completely from the general convention of novel writing. The same thing applies to the playwright and the poet. So, as earlier pointed out, this is not a call for some impracticable literary eccentricities. What is being suggested is that, within the basic literary principles, wide variation of self-expression is possible. In fact, for a quicker realisation of a personal signature in the world of writing, nothing compares to the use of ‘unconventional’ but meaningful expressive combinations. Such combinations do not only enhance originality but that freshness that is the major point of attraction in any piece of writing.
It is very important for one to recognise and develop his personal style because creativity thrives on variety. This is why God, the Master Designer, designs the world in such a way that everything differs from every other thing – from physical appearance to mannerism and such other characteristics as could be found in man and other creatures. Variety is not just the spice of life, as it is generally believed, it is life itself, and God’s way of creating room for choice making. So it is with writing. Variety of styles afford the reader a wide range of choice. Hence, when you allow your style to be eclipsed by someone else’s, you narrow that scope of choice and unwittingly drive the readers from your work. Just imagine the disappointment of a reader who, probably tired of reading Wole Soyinka, decides to read your work for a change, only to be confronted with Soyinka in every line of every page.
There is no need for one to be ashamed of his style, no matter how bad he thinks it is. For, in creation, everything has its place; even ugliness. Which, perhaps, is why some pretty ladies find ugly guys better companions, and vice versa. How are you sure that style you are trying to bury under another writer’s own style is not what the readers out there are craving for? When D. H. Lawrence, a 20th Century British writer, began his simple poems, critics tore them apart, saying he was being simplistic and that he should stick to his novel writing where he could be as prosy as he wished. But he stuck to his guns, and today his free verse style is the in-thing.
Of course, styles might look similar without one necessarily copying from the other. And one could be inspired by certain styles. But this is not the same thing as deliberate attempts to make one’s works look exactly like the other writer’s just because that writer has made a name. In writing crime novel, for instance, one could still keep his personal touch even if he were inspired by James Hardley Chase or Nick Carter. Ola Rotimi is a glaring example. His play, The Gods Are Not To Blame, is a direct adaptation of Oedipus Rex, a play on Greek mythology, but he never sounded Greek.
So, discover your style today and let it evolve with all its distinctiveness. And within the framework, toy with the idea of creating something out of the ordinary. The sky is not your limit!