About Me

My photo
Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

"Reading like a writer" by Francine Prose

The title of this book is a little misleading. True, chapter one explains that you have to read closely (and slowly) to fully appreciate the brilliance of good writers but the purpose of the rest of the book is to carefully analyse extracts from the masters in order to show a wannabe writer like myself how to write.

There were moments of wonder as this book discovered for me how great authors write. There were moments of terror when I realised, with her, that “Some writers stop you dead in your tracks by making you see your own work in the most unflattering light.” But I have taken the bait and ingested the gateway drug and I am now hooked. Prose says at the end:  “The compulsion to spend long hours writing can deform a ‘normal’ life.” That should have been written over the doorway to hell. The trouble is that you never quite abandon hope and so you keep on going. Oh well. What else did I learn?

A selection of what else I learnt:
  • “In the ongoing process of becoming a writer ... I discovered that writing, like reading, was done one word at a time, one punctuation mark at a time. It required was a friend calls ‘putting every word on trial for its life’: changing an adjective, cutting a phrase, removing a comma, and putting the comma back in.”
  • “You can assume that if a writer's work has survived for centuries, there are reasons why this is so, explanations that have nothing to do with a conspiracy of academics plotting to resurrect a zombie army of dead white males.”
  • “Reading quickly - for plot, for ideas, even for the psychological truths that a story reveals - can be a hindrance when the crucial revelations are in the spaces between words”
  • “It's necessary to hold the concept clarity as an even higher ideal than grammatical correctness.”
  • “Rhythm is nearly as important in prose as it is in poetry. I have heard a number of writers say that they would rather choose the slightly wrong word that made their sentence more musical than the precisely right one that made it more awkward and clumsy.”
  • “It's helpful to consider the parallels to music, the way that, at the end of a symphony, the tempo slows down and chords become more sustained or dramatic, with overtones that reverberate and echo after the musicians have stopped playing.”
  • “Considering how frequently people get sick, it's strange that writers don't write about illness more often.”
  • “A new paragraph ... lets you quietly change the rhythm ... and ... shows the same landscape from a different aspect.”
  • “Paragraphs ... end with little climaxes”
  • “A one-sentence paragraph feels like a punch.” “If the writer is going to draw attention to the stand-alone sentence, the sentence had better be worth it.”
  • “Most conversations involve a sort of sophisticated multitasking ... We are not merely communicating information but attempting to make an impression and achieve a goal. And sometimes we are hoping to prevent the listener from noticing what we are not saying ... As a result, dialogue usually contains as much or even more subtext as text.”
  • “Details are what persuade us that someone is telling the truth” but not too many; “Liars know that it's the single priceless detail that jumps out of the story.”
  • “Great writers painstakingly construct their fiction with small but significant details that, brushstroke by brushstroke, paint the pictures the artists hope to portray.”
  • “Often a well-chosen detail can tell us more about a character ... then a long explanatory passage.”
  • “A true description of nature should be very brief ... commonplaces one ought to abandon ... seize upon the little particulars, grouping them in such a way that, in reading, when you shut your eyes you get the picture.”
  • "If a character is going to light a cigarette ... it should mean something.”
  • “The wider and deeper your observational range, the better, the more interestingly and truthfully you will write.”
  • “As the world drops away in stages, as it does for the dying, we move deeper into its hero’s psyche.”
A superb manual on how to write. May 2019; 268 pages

No comments:

Post a Comment