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You Are What You Read: Can It Influence How You Write?

Updated on September 1, 2011


After leaving a movie theater, have you ever had the sensation that the film you saw had a residual impact on your mood or mannerisms for a brief period of time? Such a phenomenon is often blamed for rambunctiousness in children after they watch television or play a video game (while awake, that is; adverse effects on sleep make up another issue entirely). However, what you read also has this impact on you to a certain extent, specifically as it pertains to how you write. This can either be deliberate or unintentional. The question is what it means to you and how you deal with it.

Similar to the movie-going experience, the word choice or tone of a certain author's story can influence and inspire the reader as well. A well-written story that speaks to our interests can indeed influence how we write from then on if we choose to act on it. Sometimes it becomes embedded in our subconscious and we may act on it without realizing it (which may in some cases turn into unfortunate instances of accidental plagiarism). While most writers would prefer or consider themselves to be completely original, we all must admit that we are influenced by anything and everything that makes up our surroundings, including what we read, watch, etc. In order to avoid outright plagiarism, take the inspiration in a different direction from what you have actually read without copying that which is unique to the original work. As with anything, knowing your fair use rights and following through with them is also essential.

Published works often (but not always) set an example for what is acceptable for writing practices. While this usually doesn't apply to writing classes, in which the style or format is dictated and beaten into you, it does send a message that there is more than one "right" way to write a story. Some authors, both past and present, have "gotten away with" having a certain creative style or format for which our teachers have told us they were an exception to the rules they have been instructed to inflict upon us. Outside the classroom, however, anything goes as long as it's comprehensible to the reader.

The written language is constantly evolving, whether we like it or not. In the future, writing standards may be completely different and we may see even more new forms of literature with different formats and styles that seem to mimic others. Keeping in mind that inspiration can come from anywhere at any time, and as long as we know what to do with it, this should not be seen as a threat but a natural progression of ideas to another conclusion.


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