Monday, March 24, 2014

Modus Oparendi: Patterns

Modus Oparendi: Patterns

If writers have a favorite author can they pattern a book writing style after what he or she has written, and the format used? Borrowing format is not a violation of copyright. In recent times, writers have copied Hemingway’s minimalist, yet emotional style. For a more succinct method, they've parroted Elmore Leonard’s staccato style, “leaving out the dull parts no one reads.” Remember when everyone wrote like Mike Hammer talks, or copied Damon Runyon? Imitation is said to be the most sincere form of flattery.

Jodi Picoult’s recent format, naming chapters after the character whose POV it is, can be liberating. Without copying her writing, I am using her method for my latest madness. One can get inside the character with no author intrusion. The writer becomes the character. The conflict between characters is pre-established and shown in dialogue with the other characters, each of whom we know because we’ve been there inside their heads. They will argue their issues from already established Points of View. Very persuasive, even the whining is not the author’s.

This example excerpt is from my WIP, Cinderella Sister:

Jane: someday will be mother to the main character, an in vitro fertilization

… I dated a lot of men before I decided I wouldn’t marry. None of them could hold a candle to my dad, Doug Høeg. I was thirty-six, and a family law attorney. Seeing people at their worst, I had no desire to enter into a custody battle with an ex-husband …

The day I decided I didn’t need a man to have a baby, I’d just come home from a difficult custody case. It was one of those Solomon situations where nobody wins. I was disgusted with the whole human race. The biological father had suddenly decided he wanted to be a “daddy,” and his parents were more than willing to give their only son what he wanted—at their urging. At first the young birth mother had not put up a fight; her parents didn’t want her to keep the baby. Then she turned eighteen and brought suit. The battle was on. I was asked to represent the girl, who suddenly wanted “her baby” more than anything in the world.


I fixed a scotch and sat in my lounge chair with my feet up reading my list of cases for the following week when suddenly that girl’s face tripped cross my mind. Her eyes had been swimming in need. At that moment in court while she wrung her hands and wept that she truly wanted this baby, her baby. I saw it was her parents, whose ambitions for her were a little off kilter. They wanted the prom queen, the A student, not her destiny. I had to do something for her. I interrupted the proceedings.

“Your Honor, may I consult with my client?”

“Make it short, Ms. Høeg, the court is about to rule.”

The girl followed me into a small office used for conferences and depositions.

“Sit,” I instructed.

She looked at me with puppy dog eyes.

“What are you willing to do to have primary custody of your daughter?”


“Did you ever say or sign anything to the effect that you would relinquish your baby to your boyfriend or his family?”

“No! He didn’t even want Carla until I said I was keeping her.”

“Would you be willing to take parenting classes and complete your GED while you work to provide for her?”

“Yes. I’ve been clerking a Wal-Mart part time. My parents paid the hospital—”

I shook my hands in the air. “Just answer me one more question. Were you arranging an abortion when your mother discovered you were two months pregnant?”

She squirmed in her seat. I thought oh damn. Then she looked at me through clear eyes.“We’re not Catholics. It was Mom who wanted the abortion after I told her why I felt sick and—”

“Okay, okay. I will make a proposal to the judge and we’ll see how that goes. We can ask for child support. You’ll have to share custody with the birth father. If he pays, as he should, that will help with your expenses raising Carla.”
She jumped off the chair and hugged me.

I took a long drink of my scotch and wondered if I’d ever feel a hug like that from my own child if she were in trouble… I hoped so.

How we tell our stories can vary. If we use the above style for a memoir it fails as soon as you jump into the second head. The Jodi Picoult method is best used in place of third person omniscient voice, which is all but missing from her recent books. Instead, without confusing readers, she uses first person, present and/or past tense for each chapter. This puts the reader there. It’s so intimate you feel like you should apologize for intruding on each character’s privacy. The chapter character tells her own story, transfusing his POV, validating her emotions, solidifying his prejudices and values.

The next time you write a long work of fiction, try it. You’ll like it. As in poetry and art, it’s a direct infusion without the IV: emotional osmosis.

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Liz Fountain said...

I've used this technique in revision to help clear up POV, but never really considered using it as a structure or pattern for a whole book. Now you've got me thinking about my current WIP and wondering if it might work... thanks!


Victoria Roder said...

Interesting topic. You've got my wheels spinning, too.

Big Mike said...

It is weird how you can detect an author by the flow and voice. One of my favorite SF guys is Dick. I was watching Adjustment Bureau for the first time other day and realized, "Wait a minute, this looks like a Dick's story," and indeed it was. The good one's have their own unique style.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Liz, cleansing the POVs makes for clarity. I've found Jodi's method a really great discovery. FYI: I've read almost all (20 out of 22). She didn't always write hers this way; the pattern evolved.

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Liz, cleansing the POVs makes for clarity. I've found Jodi's method a really great discovery. FYI: I've read almost all (20 out of 22). She didn't always write hers this way; the pattern evolved.