While currently legal, I would argue that using a living author’s name to write a passage “In the style of ____” is an ethical line I would not cross.
However, there are ethical ways to study an author’s style, and incorporate that into your AI writing.
Let’s get into that.
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When is Using A Person’s Style Ethical?
A lot of people will debate this, but I personally believe that using a person’s name in the style prompt is only ethical when that person’s work is in the public domain.
Therefore, it’s absolutely okay if you want to use a name such as:
- Jane Austen
- William Shakespeare
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
- H. P. Lovecraft
- Charles Dickens
- Mary Shelley
- Charlotte Bronte
That’s just to name a few. It can actually be a lot of fun to experiment with these styles, so knock yourself out.
How to Learn From Someone Else’s Style With AI
There are a number of ways to learn from a person’s style while using a model like ChatGPT or Claude.
The first might seem like a contradiction, but it’s important…
Use Their Name
While it’s generally considered unethical to do this in anything you plan to use publicly or commercially, I see no problem with using an author’s name in your prompt just to see what their style is like.
Here is an example:
Rewrite this paragraph in the prose style of Stephen King: The library doors flew open as Elara and I burst in, anxiety and determination dancing between us. Weaving through the aisles, I went straight to the spot where Elrick and I had first found the books on the Five Death Magics. My fingers dragged along the spines, but found nothing useful.
Elara and I hit the library doors like a summer storm, sending them clanging wide in our wake. A raw mix of fear and resolve pulsed between us, an invisible energy current that zigzagged and buzzed like a downed powerline. The labyrinthine stacks of the library, usually a maze of peace and quietude, transformed into a frantic racecourse as we plunged headlong into them.
We threaded our way through aisles that seemed to narrow and twist, as if to slow us down. My destination was clear as a moonlit night: the same dusty corner where Elrick and I had first unearthed those bone-chilling tomes on the Five Death Magics.
My fingertips skimmed over the book spines, as if guided by some supernatural sense. They bumped and brushed along the brittle leather and paper, each touch a desperate bid to unlock the knowledge we so urgently sought. But the dance ended with empty hands, no trace of anything remotely useful to be found. In the shadowy silence of the library, our desperate search seemed to echo back to us with nothing more than hollow laughter.
While this can be a fun exercise, it doesn’t really tell us much about what sets the author apart, and how we can learn from that and incorporate it in our prompts.
Option 2: Ask For Style Information
The second way to use an author’s style is to ask AI to tell you about the style. See for example, this prompt:
Describe for me the prose style of Brandon Sanderson?
Brandon Sanderson’s prose style is characterized by its accessibility, clarity, and strong narrative focus. While he doesn’t generally use overly flowery or complex language, his straightforward style aids in communicating his stories effectively and allows readers to immerse themselves fully in his richly built fantasy worlds.
Here are some distinctive elements of his prose style:
- Detail-oriented World-building: Sanderson is renowned for creating intricate fantasy worlds filled with unique magic systems, varied cultures, and deep histories. His prose delivers these details in a clear, digestible way, letting readers understand the rules and structure of his fictional universes without overwhelming them.
- Magic System Exposition: Sanderson is known for his meticulous and innovative magic systems. His prose often includes explanations and demonstrations of how these systems work, forming a kind of “magic physics” that lends credibility and depth to his worlds.
- Character Driven Narration: The characters in Sanderson’s novels are usually the drivers of his stories. His prose typically provides insight into characters’ thoughts and motivations, helping readers understand and empathize with them.
- Efficient Dialogue: Sanderson’s dialogue is purposeful and efficient, often used to advance the plot, reveal character, or explain elements of his world-building.
- Inclusion of Action: Sanderson’s prose often incorporates intense action scenes. These are usually described with a high level of clarity, making it easy for readers to follow what’s happening.
- Structured Storytelling: Sanderson’s storytelling adheres to a well-structured plot with a clear sense of progression. His novels often build towards significant climaxes and satisfying resolutions, an approach he calls the “Sanderson Avalanche.”
It’s worth noting that while Sanderson’s prose may lack the ornate language or stylistic experimentation found in some other fantasy writers’ work, his focus on clear and engaging storytelling has won him a large and dedicated fan base.
Pro tip: I always use the phrase “prose style” when asking about an author’s style. Not including “prose” in the prompt will give you a more macro response. Sometimes I’ll also add a phrase like “on a paragraph by paragraph basis.”
What we can then do is take elements that we like from the above answer, and incorporate them into our prompt. Here is the result:
Rewrite the following paragraph:
“The library doors flew open as Elara and I burst in, anxiety and determination dancing between us. Weaving through the aisles, I went straight to the spot where Elrick and I had first found the books on the Five Death Magics. My fingers dragged along the spines, but found nothing useful.”
Style Guide: Use a direct and efficient style that focuses on clarity, precision, and accessibility. Focus on characterization and action. The prose can often contain the thoughts and inner dialogues of the characters. This gives readers a deeper insight into their motivations, fears, and desires. It adds layers to the narrative and makes the characters feel more real and relatable. Use specific and concrete imagery.
Elara and I charged into the library, our emotions a potent mix of apprehension and resolve. I didn’t waste any time, cutting a swift path through the familiar rows towards the section Elrick and I had previously discovered. Here, we had unearthed volumes dedicated to the ominous subject of the Five Death Magics.
Each book I skimmed over filled my mind with frustration – they weren’t what I needed. As my fingers grazed over the dusty bindings, a dull disappointment began to seep into my thoughts. The books seemed devoid of anything helpful, leaving us in a state of suspended urgency. The weight of our mission clung to us, amplifying the tension. Elara’s own silent struggle reflected in her eyes, echoing my internal dialogue, made me want to search even harder.
I was desperate to uncover some semblance of hope within these pages, to find a weapon against the Death Magics. Our collective fears and desires were palpable, but finding the right book felt like trying to grab hold of smoke. With each fruitless attempt, our determination grew stronger. It had to. For now, we were far from giving up – our shared desperation gave us that much resolve.
While not perfect, this prompt could easily be refined and reworked until we got a result we wanted.
Option 3: Analyzing a Writing Passage
Lastly, you can input a section of the author’s text and ask it to analyze the prose style. There are two things you can do with it:
- Ask ChatGPT to continue writing in the same style as the passage you gave it
- Ask ChatGPT to tell you about the style of the passage, which you can then incorporate into your writing
It’s that simple!
Which Style Are You Playing With?
I hope that helps you learn how to analyze the style of an author in an ethical way, so you can improve the quality of your own AI-writing-style.