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Monday, October 12, 2009

Best Lessons For Writers: As Close as a Great Book

First a quick note on my writing progress for my suspense novel "The Society", I have only gotten a mere 1000 words in the last two weeks. But there is always the coming week!

When I first started taking my writing seriously, I began reading many books on writing out there. This was a number of years ago and life put my writing dreams on hold (a nasty divorce and moved several times etc.) But even wayyyyyy back then, one book on writing romances (which was not my genre but had great advice) said to learn from the books you like by picking them apart. It is a different way of looking at the books you love. In that book the aspiring writer was encouraged to do a book report on ten books within your chosen genre in which you included chapter length, openings, chapter transitions, tension between characters and so forth.

This thought from some long forgotten book has resurfaced lately. In 2007 Francine Prose published the book Reading Like a Writer that draws us back to great literature to learn the craft from some of the best. This book teaches you to study each word, then sentence and finally paragraphs in order to learn fine narration, character, dialogue, details, and gesture in writing. The book draws examples from Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Kafka, Austen, Dickens, Woolf, Checkhos, Philip Roth, Isaac Babel, George Eliot, John Le CarrĂ©, Flannery O’Connor, James Joyce and Katherine Mansfield. The book teaches us to slow our reading down to appreciate each and every word and how they are utilized in each sentence.

Reader’s Digest Guide to Creativity magazine in fall 2009 even had the article “Read Like a Writer” by Linda Busby Parker. This article gave in two short pages the down and dirty way to study writing from your favorite authors. Simple techniques are provided to learn plot, transition, character development, scenes, dialogue, setting, conflict and even charting the novel’s resolution as you read your favorites. This is not to supplant your own voice and style, but it does aid us since most every writer is a voracious reader. Why not take that love of reading to hone your own writing?  This provides even the most cash-strapped aspiring writers invaluable lessons in sharpening and perfecting their own writing.

I find that I think of a specific author or book as my favorite for specific aspects of writing. For instance, I look to Patricia Cornwell in Potter’s Field for building tension as one I would like to learn from or Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons for pacing lessons (takes place in 24 hours.)  

I am opening this up for comment and would greatly like examples of authors/books you find instructive for different aspects of the writing craft. Please share with us what authors and/or books have been examples to you and in which areas (scene construction, openings, character development, plotting, tension, pacing, setting, dialog etc.)

I will do a random drawing from the comments and give away this “I Read Banned Books” stylish bracelet!! Don’t pass on this opportunity to own such a fashion statement jewelry piece. All you have to do is leave a comment sharing your favorite authors with examples of what areas on the writing craft were exemplified (scene construction, openings, character development, plotting, tension, pacing, setting, dialog etc) in that work or writer Open for US, Canadian and UK persons only.  This bracelet displays the covers of Huckleberry Finn, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, The Color Purple, To Kill a Mockingbird and others.

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Susan said...

My favorite books on writing:
Chris Roerden, "Don't Murder Your Mystery"
Dwight Swain, "Techniques of the Selling Writer"
Jack Bickham, "Scene & Structure"

Rayanne said...

Agatha Christie. Her books read well and work really well read out loud. I tend to listen to books on tape in the car because I do a lot of distance driving. Even some best-selling authors annoy the heck out of me with endless descriptions and unnecessary details. Listening to an Agatha Christie novel - even one I've read - is like a breath of fresh air. She was a master.

A.F. Heart said...

Thank you Susan,

But what novels have helped you in learning how to write. Have classics like "To Kill A Mockingbird" taught you how to show vs tell? Have any modern writer showed from their books how to reveal a character or what a great opening is???

That was more what I was going for. The concept is fiction books teaching you how to write better - not the hundreds of books about writing in this particular instance.

A.F. Heart said...


Great example. Ms Christie truly is a master - but can you refine it to what is it that she does so well. I am getting from your answer one thing would be she handles description well. What else in particular do you learn from Ms Christie that you can apply to your writing?

AF Heart

A.F. Heart said...

Over at a perfect example of what this post was about.

The article gives 10 books that make you a better writer. They are all fiction books that you can learn from.

Old Man's War to teach brevity and humor

The Last Samurai to teach esoterica and employing multiple languages

The Name of the Wind to teach poetry and flow that will help your fiction writing

Tale of the King's Blades to teach presenting multiple perspectives and truths

Just to give a few.

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