Sometimes when I'm reading (okay, often) I find myself looking at something the writer is doing and thinking, "I can use this." I don't mean stealing passages from their book (that's called "plagiarism" and no matter what David Shields thinks, it's morally reprehensible), I mean stealing a writing technique.
For example, when I was reading Louis de Bernieres' Birds Without Wings I noticed that he has a habit of putting passages of intense beauty--often describing natural phenomena--right before passages of intense ugliness--often describing human cruelty. "I can use this," I said when I figured out what he was doing.
I've been reading the stories of Anton Chekhov lately and I noticed that in his later stories he had a habit of putting passages of lyrical, poetic images--often describing the beauty of the natural world--before passages of emotional intensity--often describing human selfishness. "I can use this," I said when I figured out what he was doing.
And then I stopped for a moment and said, "Hey, Louis de Bernieres is using Chekhov's technique." I thought for another longer moment and realized that William Shakespeare, when writing his tragedies, would often put broad comic scenes right before scenes of heightened emotion, or he'd put lovely and amazing speeches into character's mouths just before they'd do something horrifically barbaric. I'd noticed that years ago and had already decided I could use it.
So I keep finding writers who have used more-or-less this same technique, over hundreds of years of literature. And whenever I consciously focus on any other writing technique, I invariably find instances of it that predate whoever I've decided to steal from.
Which leads me to the conclusion that there is nothing new under the sun (no, I came up with that line myself) and that I shouldn't be shy about grabbing techniques from my favorite authors just because I don't know who they stole them from. They probably don't know either.
Obligatory question: What's the coolest technique you've stolen from another writer? I like the one of using my most beautiful prose during moments of great sadness. I also like pausing in the middle of a dramatic scene for a flashback, but I can't remember who I stole that from.
Also: It's Friday! Alex MacKenzie is coming over for tea tomorrow with me and Mighty Reader! It will be swell! We have no idea what to feed her. Also also: Last night we went to a showing of "Breakfast at Tiffany's." It's a swell film, though I always feel bad for Cat.