Chicago author, Kim Strickland, thought she was getting a raw deal from a writing teacher, so she decided to put him to the test:
I pulled out copies of all my favorite novels, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Breathing Lessons, I Know This Much is True. I mean, Irving, Tyler, Lamb—these guys are the best. My idols. Surely they must be following his secret formula for literary success? It was then I got an idea. One of my wonderful, awful ideas. I copied word for word eight random passages from Anne Tyler’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Breathing Lessons, and handed it in. (Full disclosure: since he already knew my writing style, I changed the formatting of hers. She writes big, long paragraphs. I don’t. So I broke her paragraphs down. I also changed the character names and said it was “a few pages from another novel.”)
Yeah, I know. It was a bitchy thing to do. But I learned more from that exercise than the whole rest of the class. Copying her words, it felt like I was channeling her style, so different from mine and then simultaneously, weirdly, not so very different underneath it at all. I learned there’s no precise formula for writing a great story. Sure there are rules and guidelines and I suppose you have to know the rules before you can break them, but every great story is as individual as the writers that wrote them. And when Teacher eviscerated Pulitzer Prize winning Anne in the same way he had me, I felt vindicated. If in his eyes I'm such a terrible fiction writer, at least I'm in very good company.