How can you develop a style of writing? I'm supposed to learn how to imitate Margaret Atwood's style of writing. Other than reading their work?
Attempting to develop a style of writing evocative of a specific author without reading that author's works is an exercise in futility. The identifiable attributes of a particular author, such as the sweep of a narrative and the turn of a phrase, can only truly occur from immersing oneself in the environment established by the author in question. Certainly, biographical details and first-person interviews such as those provided in the sources linked below can help, as can the reading of a thoughtful academic study such as the 1991 Master's Thesis written by Angela Gulick titled The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood: Examining its Utopian, Dystopian, Feminist, and Post-Modernist Traditions, especially Chapter III, which is titled "Language and The Handmaid's Tale." The combined effect of a careful review of such literature can help place the student in the proper frame of mind while providing important insights into the author's background, character, influences and style. At the end of the day, though, attempting to imitate Atwood's style of writing without reading that writing is unlikely to lead to success. For example, in the following quote from an interview Atwood did with Slate, she comments on the complexity of writing about an inanimate subject without a human perspective:
"It’s rather useless to write a gripping narrative with nothing in it but climate change because novels are always about people even if they purport to be about rabbits or robots. They’re still really about people because that’s who we are and that’s what we write stories about."
Similarly, one can peruse the lists of quotes from Atwood's myriad works that are easily available on the Internet but, again, without a proper context that can only really come from reading the broader work from which the quotes are extracted the ability to develop a similar style of writing will be difficult to attain. Read, for example, the following quote from her 1988 novel Cat's Eye, about a prominent artist reflecting on her life and the influences that shaped her both for better and for worse:
“I don't want to see anyone. I lie in the bedroom with the curtains drawn and nothingness washing over me like a sluggish wave. Whatever is happening to me is my own fault. I have done something wrong, something so huge I can't even see it, something that's drowning me. I am inadequate and stupid, without worth. I might as well be dead.”
Reading that quote absent context may, to a certain degree, help a student to develop a similar style of writing. It is, however, unlikely to seriously help that student bridge the gap between her own innate ability to write and that of a gifted author like Atwood. The good news is that the student need not read the entirety of Atwood's novels; select chapters combined with the aforementioned biographical information might suffice. To expect to imitate Atwood's style without reading Atwood, however, constitutes a dubious proposition.