"It can be difficult to aspire towards someone's quality without thinking you need to mimic their qualities."
I said that on twitter today. It might be something someone else has said. I'm not sure. I just know it reflects an occasional struggle of mine as a writer. There are many writers whom I admire for one reason or another. In a very general sense, I hope to be writers like them. Because I am a top-down thinker, this often means that I start with that vague sense of how good they are and deduce from it all the particulars that must somehow go into that quality. That's a perilous path, for it leads to comparisons that ultimately have less to do with the big-picture quality of the writing and more to do with specifics of style.
Within my own genre, over the past year, I have been particularly struck by the work of four different authors: award-winning standouts RJ Ellory and Ryan David Jahn, and newcomers Michelle Davidson Argyle and Jennifer Hillier. Each one exemplifies something that I would to achieve, but each one is very different from one another, and very different from my own work. Ellory's writing broods and relishes in the moment. Jahn takes brooding and turns it into physical and emotional violence that pushes each moment into the next. Argyle writes with the soft touch of a poet. Hillier's novel Creep moves like a thriller that lives messy, streaky fingerprints in its wake.
As much as I admire these writers' craftsmanship, and even those specific attributes, my own writing is very different. Ellory's writings feels, for all its exploration of American culture and history, like it has deep European roots. Jahn has a neo-noir flair. Argyle comes to genre writing from the literary world. Hillier's work reflects contemporary American thriller-writing with all its cross-media influences. My own writing is grounded in the shades-of-grey action thrillers of Jack Higgins (The Savage Day) and the fast-clip conspiracy novels of Robert Ludlum (Chancellor Manuscript) and plays in the surrealistic, philosophical world of Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club, Choke).
As a result, my fiction runs at a face pace, and gets bogged down if I try to force too many lingering moments. Violence is part of the context and setting, rather than a propulsive force. My descriptions are clean-cut and matter-of-fact, and my arch language owes more to philosophy than to poetry. If the end result is like non-written media, it's far more like Japanese suspense drama than it is like CSI or Law and Order: SVU.
What I often need to remind myself is that it's not those specifics that I need to strive towards. What I want to be is fearless. I want to write evocatively and effectively. I hope that my readers feel a rush of adrenaline, and then stop to think. I hope that my readers feel the darkness, and grasp for the little fragments of light shining through. In their own way, these broad characteristics are part of what mark Ellory, Jahn, Argyle, and Hillier as quality. These are things toward which I can strive without sacrificing my own unique style and voice. These are measuring sticks that are independent of context and individual technique.
This isn't a writing thing. This is a living thing. Whatever your goals are. Whoever you want to be. Whatever you want to achieve. Aim for quality. Work with your own qualities.