How to Learn to Write by Reading

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A pop-up bookstore opened up next to my job, full of used books. One antsy afternoon, I took a stroll around the store looking for anything on my “to-read” Goodreads list.

That’s when I found it: Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them. This helpful book shares how we can learn to write better by reading intentionally.

How to Learn to Write by Reading

I haven’t finished the book yet, but I’m already inspired and am dying to share what I’ve learned so far.

Read to Learn How to Write

No, really. Read to learn how to write.

Yes, a writer should read, out of principle. But Prose (that has to be a fake name, right?!) tells us we can actually learn how to write by reading. That's how people figured it out before workshops or writing conferences were available: by studying the craft of their predecessors.

One reason Prose likes this technique, compared to writing classes or workshops, for example, is that it focuses on writing done well rather than on everything you did wrong.

It seems so obvious, but this basic premise alone (to learn to write from reading) had an impact on me. It made me want to devour all the books on my list and engage in this purposeful reading.  It was exciting!

Read Closely

If you’re going to learn by reading, you’ll need to read closely. If you're excited about reading like me, you may be tempted to speed up.

Don’t do that. Don't speed up. Rather, slow down. Read every word. After all, Prose reminds us, words are the “raw material” from which literature is crafted. At the end of the day, good writing depends on a writer’s a skill in choosing one word instead of another.

Next time you read, ask yourself, what sort of information does each word choice convey? And more importantly, read the words that are written!

Keep the Greats Close

There are some writers that endure the test of time. I’m sure a few (probably the ones you like the most) immediately come to mind. Read these greats again and ask yourself, why did they endure?

When you’re done, Prose suggests, keep these greats close to where you write. I really like this advice. By keeping the greats close at hand, you have at your fingertips a resource of sentences written by writers who have worked “to revise and polish them into gems.”

Prose suggests turning to these brilliant sentences when you feel like your writing is getting lazy or vague: “you can open such books anywhere and read a sentence that will move you to labor longer, try harder . . . until it’s something to be proud of instead of something you hope that the reader won’t notice.”

Reading Is the Best Way to Learn to Write

We know that as writers, it's important for us to read. But reading intentionally can help you discover the specific techniques and tricks your favorite authors use so that you can learn more and apply that knowledge immediately.

Pick up a great book and read!

Which writing greats will you keep close? Let me know in the comments.

PRACTICE

Francine Prose dissects paragraphs from literature throughout Reading Like a Writer. Now it’s your turn!

For the next fifteen minutes, closely read the paragraphs below from Alice Munro’s “Dulse.” What choices did Munro make? What do we know about her heroine? How does she convey this information? Share your observations in the comments.

Below, I’ve shared some of Prose’s notes on this excerpt, which you can read after you complete the practice. 😉

At the end of the summer Lydia took a boat to an island off the southern coast of New Brunswick, where she was going to stay overnight. She had just a few days left until she had to be back in Ontario. She worked as an editor, for a publisher in Toronto. She was also a poet, but she did not refer to that unless it was something people knew already. For the past eighteen months she had been living with a man in Kingston. As far as she could see, that was over.

She had noticed something about herself on this trip to the Maritimes. It was that people were no longer so interested in getting to know her. It wasn’t that she had created such a stir before, but something had been there that she could rely on. She was forty-five, and had been divorced for nine years. Her two children had started on their own lives, though there were still retreats and confusions. She hadn’t gotten fatter or thinner, her looks had not deteriorated in any alarming way, but nevertheless she had stopped being one sort of woman and had become another, and she had noticed it on this trip.

A quick summary of Prose's notes on the excerpt:

  • “This is a compressed, complete, and painfully honest rendering of the complexities of a woman's entire life, her professional and romantic circumstances, her psychological state, as well as the point at which she stands along the continuum from the beginning of life to the end.”
  • The writer chooses to call the heroine by her first name, creating some intimacy.
  • In one sentence, we are informed about her romantic life and the undramatic resignation (“As far as she could see, that was over.”) with which our heroine looks back on eighteen months spent living with “a man in Kingston.”
  • We discover her age, marital status, and that she has two children.
  • How much verbiage could have been squandered in summarizing the periodic “retreats and confusions” that have stalled Lydia’s grown children in their progress toward adulthood?
  • The passage contradicts a form of “bad advice” often given young writers—show, don’t tell.

Monica is a lawyer trying to knock out her first novel. She lives in D.C. but is still a New Yorker. You can follow her on her blog or on Twitter (@monicamclark).

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47 Comments

  1. Ariel Benjamin

    Yes, yes, yes. Something it took me a long time to learn, but now that I have it has enlivened my writing. I keep C.S. Lewis close.

    I really like this quote: “One reason Prose likes this technique, compared to writing classes or workshops, for example, is that it focuses on writing done well rather than on everything you did wrong.”

    Reply
    • Gail Wofford Cartee

      C.S. Lewis – great choice

      Reply
    • Monica

      Yes, she makes that point several times! I agree that it’s a great way to think about it.

      Reply
  2. Gail Wofford Cartee

    I was forced to write for my job. That was when I discovered how to read like a writer. I was to choose my favorite children’s author and then try a piece that reflected the author’s style. I chose Cynthia Rylant’s ‘When I Was Young in the Mountains.’ Now I love writing for children and I always read her books to my classes. I guess I’m killing two birds with one stone, reading to children and reading her works to keep my writing fresh.

    Reply
    • Hattie

      Reading and writing just go hand in hand….

      Reply
  3. Hattie

    I totally agree with reading to write……
    many years ago I fell completely in LOVE with Ted Hughes and his poetry…..he always inspires me….his words seduced me…..I read and re-read like an addiction…I was in awe of his ability to weave words across the page.
    Then some time after I had an affair with Shakespeare……and the revalation to me was I could see how Shakespeare had influenced Ted Hughes…….and of course we need the great writers to show us the way……..
    These 2 men are always close to my desk and the pile of books by my bed….
    (I’m having an affair with 2 writers…sshhh….don’t tell anyone)
    Hattie

    Reply
  4. Anand Venigalla

    Some writers I really love and cherish:

    Charles Dickens: Reading Bleak House, which many hold to be Dickens’s best novel, I am astonied by Dickens’s rhetorical, linguistic fecundity and creativity. He controls two voices brilliantly, and his rhetorical devices, particularly the use of anaphora and parallelism, attract me, make me think that Dickens would be a great orator, or a speechwriter, as much as a fictional writer. His characters are superbly drawn too, his style rich, his storytelling bustling and energetic, his energy so beautiful.

    Nathaniel Hawthorne: His short stories are so powerful; his lingering style, influenced by Samuel Johnson, Edmund Spenser, and classic models, has a leisurely syntax and diction, a stateliness bringing to his storytelling a sort of power of fantastical vision. “Young Goodman Brown” is a perfect little allegory. “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” “The Birth-Mark,” and so many of his stories are fantastic.

    And yes, I love The Scarlet Letter. Love it, love it, love it. It’s Hawthorne’s fullest and best use of his creative powers – his leisurely yet clear style, his allegorical power, the infernal darkness, the vast power of the human consciousness in his stories, the tension between reality and fancy in his best work.

    Vladimir Nabokov is also attractive for his beautiful style. Cormac McCarthy’s archaic, deep, exuberant prose (particularly in Suttree and Blood Meridian) casts a spell on me.

    Flannery O’Connor might very well be a Southern Homer as well, for her startling use of simile and figurative language that pops in the brain. Also, her Christian vision is profound as well.

    Others are Dostoevsky, Melville, Faulkner, Milton, Shakespeare

    Reply
    • Allyson Faith McGill

      A very inspiring and insightful entry–thank you!

      Reply
    • Hattie

      You are sounding very well read….

      Reply
  5. Allyson Faith McGill

    I have a PhD in English with a focus on Victorian Lit, so my go-to authors are Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, and Eliot. But I love many authors. One of my favorites is Louise Penny, who writes the Gamache mysteries. She is a superb conveyer of character. What other modern authors do people recommend?

    Reply
  6. SC

    Lydia sounds like someone who has had to accept things about herself after a lot of introspection. There is a certain control in her that does not push her to talk too much about herself or expect too much from others. There is a note of “growing awareness about one’s true self” or what one is turning into as an adult in these two paragraphs. She also seems to be the kind that does not want to attract attention, for fear of failing. Perhaps she has an inferiority complex as well that she doesn’t battle. There is also a quiet and “firm” resignation, or matter-of-factness to her acceptance of things. She seems like someone who stays in the background for fear of not wanting to be told that people don’t know who she is/that her situation is not so great.
    Alice Munro’s writing style mirrors what I assume about Lydia above – very matter-of-fact, empathetic, maybe and compassionate, but not pitying, towards Lydia, sometimes blunt, stark

    Reply
    • Rodgin K

      So many of these things are how I also felt about Lydia, but none of them are laid out or expressed. I would like to know her thoughts on this and also how she got here. Obviously we will learn more about who she is.

      What in Munro’s writing made you feel that it was empathetic and compassionate? Not an argument, just curious how you saw that.

      Reply
      • SC

        Happy to explain, though the feeling that it’s empathetic and compassionate is more instinctive and not something I can dissect.
        I think there should be a certain amount of compassion and regard for the characters in your story, combined with the honesty to portray them as the misfits or unhappy persons that they might be. I’m not even sure I myself agree with this, it’s not a fully formed opinion – because how would you distinguish between “bad” and “good” characters in your story otherwise but I caught myself telling someone this recently when I critiqued their story, that everything seemed too decided and there seemed to be no scope to expand the story – I’m still mulling over that, actually.

        Reply
        • Rodgin K

          It’s a great starting point. Being as that is how I would recommend treating people, I don’t see why treating your characters (who are supposed to be people) should be any different.

          So to pull from my own experience, I would say that good and bad are not so much your guides as serving their purpose and being realistically portrayed. My current “hero” is actually the villain, slowly losing himself to power, opulence, and the desire for revenge. He’s a complete monster by the end and no one would say that he’s good. (At least not if I’m doing my job correctly).

          Still, back to the point at hand, honesty and compassion. Why compassion? What are you gaining with compassion for your characters that you don’t get from an honest and accurate portrayal?

          Reply
          • SC

            This question made me think even more about why compassion. I’m sorry to say I don’t have a clear answer even now. Did I mean patience? Maybe. As a writer, I don’t want to make a judgment about a character and not leave space to explain why I say so or why perhaps the character is as s/he is.
            This is also a problem I face in real life.I am always trying to put myself in other people’s feet (with a few exceptions to whom I have a closed mind) before I judge them, and I find often that I cannot take a stand on many situations, personal or matters of public interest. Extending this consideration to writing is problematic too, I think.

    • Monica

      I agree with this, and especially like your comment “Alice Munro’s writing style mirrors what I assume about Lydia above – very matter-of-fact, empathetic, maybe and compassionate, but not pitying, towards Lydia, sometimes blunt, stark.” That mirroring technique seems like something I can employ in my writing.

      Reply
  7. James Wright

    When I read a story I pay particular attention to structure. The way a sentence is built is a thing of rare beauty. Like a newly discovered diamond.

    Reply
  8. Ken

    I assume this extract is a summary. The following bit could be scene.
    In the first paragraph each description is followed by a comment (explanation, clarification — with a ‘but’ meaning).
    ‘She worked as an editor,…Toronto.'(Description, her job) She was also a
    poet (explanation, description), but she did not refer to that unless it was something people knew
    already.’ (explanation, clarification, ). This pattern occurs throughout the paragraph.

    The second paragraph is a bit vague. For instance, we do not know whether she means meeting people as friends or as lovers. One type involves meeting people. The following sentences give facts that are not explanations for this. She concludes that has stopped being one type of woman (what type?) and became another.
    It leaves us wondering What kind of woman has she become? Did she expect to find a boyfriend? So there is reason to read on (What kind of woman has she become).

    A writer might see in this a way of giving a description which seems to be an information dump (without the ‘but’s) but becomes interesting because of the ‘but’s (which is also a kind of parallelism.)

    Reply
    • Monica

      Yes! It’s a lot of “telling” as opposed to “showing.” Prose seems to think Munro effectively broke that rule in this case.

      Reply
  9. Rodgin K

    So, to add to the already excellent list of writers and stories already posted..

    Tolkien is literally five paces away. However, I’ve actually found myself reading the appendix of the Lord of the Rings more than the actual books. So much good information there, I’m still trying to figure out how the man wrote an alternative history book about a place that doesn’t exist and got away with it.

    I’m doubling down on C.S. Lewis. I know someone else mentioned it, but I don’t know that I’ve ever read anything more perfectly written than C.S. Lewis. My wife and I are currently reading Narnia to my oldest daughter. It’s making the whole thing come alive again. However, it is his argumentative books that I think really show his writing chops and his ability to write a fortress of words.

    Alexander Dumas is my final addition to the list. While The Three Musketeers is well known, he has several other less well known works that are just as good or better that I would encourage reading.

    Now to the exercise:

    Lydia does not seem at all remarkable. She has a job, has kids, is on vacation, and seems to have found herself smacked in the face by a new stage of life she didn’t want to be at. Munro has revealed all of this in a well crafted piece of exposition laid in after enough action to disguise it. We know what she is doing, then we learn about her. The whole picture looks rather sad to me. I’m not sure if that is her intent, or just my feeling towards people and what their lives should look like. Lydia seems somewhere between dissapointed with her life and accepting of a new stage.

    Something of interest to me, because it is a thing I find myself doing often, is that almost everything is fact based writing here. “She lives here, she does this job, she noticed this about herself.” There is no comment on how she feels about any of it or her desire for what these things should be. Perhaps it is unfair to expect this in 2 paragraphs, but I find it odd that there is nothing there on an emotional level, and yet it does still stir emotion. I find myself very sad for her, but I’m very curious if she feels sad for herself, or simply just accepts this.

    (Read back on Prose’s notes. I feel somewhat vindicated.)

    Reply
    • Stella

      Hi Rodgin, I wouldn’t fully agree that there is nothing there on an emotional level, because I think there are some clues on how Lydia reacts to her situation (I discuss this in my post). But I agree that what makes the passage interesting is how restrained Lydia’s emotional response is. That’s what makes us want to read on.

      Do you think the passage would be more or less effective if Munro had included more explicit statements on Lydia’s emotional state? Eg “Life was unfair. At forty-five she should have learned this long ago, but it never failed to rear up and surprise her.”

      Reply
      • Rodgin K

        Not gonna lie, I’m not sure what the answer is there. I feel that being much more explicit would lose some of the allure, but from a writing standpoint this is almost bland. There is nothing there that excites me as a writer, but as a reader it raises just enough questions to make me want to read more.

        You say that you disagree that there isn’t anything on an emotional level, but I’ve gone back and reread it and still have nothing. Even what you are saying in your post about the descriptions being coloured by Lydia’s personality seem a bit grasping to me. They are all straight written facts. I feel that she even picked her words carefully to keep them that way. “As far as she could see, that was over.” We can (and maybe even should) read deeper into that, but at the end of the day it is still just fact.

        I feel that I’m sounding like I dislike this, and it’s not the case. I’m intrigued more than anything. This is some of the most technically basic writing I’ve seen in a while (especially by a professional) and yet it is doing everything it should be doing. It is making me want to know more about someone that looks pretty basic and straightforward as the description. Perhaps that is the lesson to be learned here.

        Reply
  10. Jason

    “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” By Stephen King

    Reply
  11. Stella

    What’s most effective about Munro’s prose is what she doesn’t say. Key information is hinted at but not elaborated on, which creates suspense and makes the reader want to read on. Eg:

    What kind of change has Lydia made in her life?

    Why did she create a small-scale stir before?

    Why does she say that her life with the man in Kingston is over ‘as far as she could see’?

    Yet the passage works well as an introduction because it gives all the basic character details, which in less skilled hands could become an info-dump. Name, occupation, interests outside work, home town, physical appearance, family and family history, character’s voice/view of the world. All in just two paragraphs!

    I particularly like the parts where the description is coloured by Lydia’s own personality. Eg:

    “She was also a poet, but she did not refer to that unless it was something people knew already.”

    “As far as she could see, that was over.”

    “It wasn’t that she had created such a stir before, but something had been there that she could rely on.”

    In less skilled hands, these sentences could become something more generic, like:

    “In her spare time she also enjoyed writing poetry.”

    “But their relationship was over.”

    “She had never been very popular, but now she was even less so.”

    My ‘bad rewritings’ of those sentences convey the same information, but strip it of Lydia’s reactions. We lose the information that she’s a private person, that her relationship with the man in Kingston may not be a completely closed book, and that Lydia appreciated the attention she previously attracted.

    That’s my two cents.

    Reply
  12. Dey

    Respectfully, I disagree. I think the above is a beau ideal of what NOT to do. It’s boring. Concise, yes, but boring. Why would anyone use up 203 boring words to introduce a character just because it’s economical? It’s a waste of word real estate that can be put to better use. Yeah, you learn about the character in short-hand, but it’s not engaging, doesn’t create questions or a desire to know more about this character. I don’t get how this would teach anyone to write better.

    Reply
    • Rodgin K

      I’m curious how you see it as not engaging or not creating questions? I’ve already put my two cents in elsewhere, but I’m curious how you come to that conclusion. Where is the line between boring and efficient? You seem to think this excerpt falls into the boring class. Why do you think that? What are you seeing that shows that?

      Reply
      • Dey

        I would say the difference lies in the place of energy, which is an ephemeral thing in writing. This doesn’t have any. As you noted, it’s all fact based. My interpretation is quite different than yours. The factual presentation didn’t make me feel anything. The distance of the omni voice made it seem like the narrator didn’t care, the word choice made it seem like the character didn’t care. Just all very ho-hum. I’m flummoxed on reading the comments by the number of people who think this is engaging.

        There is also a really weird time issue going on. The first line makes it seem like she’s on her way to the island, and the first line of the second paragraph makes it seem like the trip is over and is now the subject of assessment, which is it? Is she headed off on a weekend of self-discovery or is she headed back to life after a realization that she has something to change about herself? Seat the reader, for goodness sake.

        If Prose thinks this bit of “telling” is done well, what do does one say to that? Uhg, no. Why does the reader need to know all these things – unrelated things – right now? What does her being 45 have to do with being a poet or what does a being a poet have to do with her grown children’s lives stalling, what does that have to do with a terminating relationship? Outside of a quick sketch of this person, nothing. Because they are presented in this fashion none of them feel like they have any weight or importance.

        One could start with almost any of them and get more power and engagement. Bring in a character voice and get more mileage. One could tie them together thematically (not done in Munro’s original) and it would be stronger/more engaging. Sitting here, I’ve thought of half a dozen ways to make this better — imho. None of them involve and info dump.

        Reply
        • sherpeace

          On the one hand, I see why a younger person wouldn’t understand what this woman is feeling. BUT I also have tried to read Munro on several occasions & she never captured my attention. I honestly did find her boring. I hope I don’t upset her fans by saying that.
          Sherrie’s historically based, coming of age, Adventure novel “Secrets & Lies in El Salvador” is about an American girl in war-torn El Salvador:
          http://tinyurl.com/klxbt4y
          Her husband made a video for her novel. He wrote the song too:
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P11Ch5chkAc

          Reply
  13. LilianGardner

    Thanks for this handy post, Monica, which is what I’m trying to accomplish in my writing; that of cutting out wordiness. The paragaphs from ‘Dulse’ is a perfect example of how-to. One of my favourite writers, Ernest Hemmingway, writes without redundancy. I also like classics and the correct and beautiful language the authors use.

    Reply
  14. CHERRILYNN BISBANO

    Great article. I started writing less than 2 years ago. I read more now than ever before. I also like to listen to the audio version of a good book. The voice talent reads the characters with different voices. This adds another depth to sharpening my writing.

    Reply
  15. BellCindyM

    I keep Pablo Neruda and Rita Dove on hand and nearby for poetry.

    For fiction, I currently have The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey on hand and flip through it regularly. It’s not considered a great yet but it was a Pulitzer finalist in recent years and I absolutely love it. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is another. Although his work seems so far out of reach I don’t actually flip through it as regularly. I’ve tried analyzing a few of his scenes and have come away frustrated. But what a joy to read. I have to read Steinbeck in the near future. He seems daunting to me, but one thing I notice every time I flip through one of his books at the thrift store is his use of verbs. It is outstanding. So he must go on the list. Hemingway is in the TBR pile so we’ll see.

    I don’t think there’s anymore I can add to the prose example that other’s haven’t commented on, but as a writer, I’m curious why she doesn’t ever mention that she’s a poet.

    Reply
  16. Louise Canfield-Sander

    Francine Prose’s is one of my “go to” books. Important reading for any writer.
    I love the way she effortlessly condenses a woman’s entire life into a couple of paragraphs by “telling,” not “showing.” I am particularly struck by the poignancy of her realization that she is becoming “of a certain age.” She knows she has lost something intangible, but doesn’t understand how it happened.

    Reply
  17. Kiki Stamatiou

    1. What Choices Did Munro Make?

    Answer: She lived with a man in Kingston. She took a trip to the Maritimes.

    2. What Do We Know About Her?

    Answer: She worked as an editor for a publisher in Ontario. She’s a single mother. I’m assuming the man she lived with in Kingston was her boyfriend. She’s either divorced or never been married. She’s a poet, but doesn’t want people to know.

    3. How Does She Convey This Information?

    Answer: She was living with a man in Kingston. The people treated her differently than they had in the past. They shunned her. The narrative talks about how there was something not quite right with her children.

    Reply
    • Jean Maples

      My impression is that she is treated differently is primarily that she is aging, moving into a different stage of her life. Changes are subtle. She is hardly aware, herself, that it is happening.
      As to children, they are probably completely normal. Who does not have an occasional downside to what is thrown our way? Where does one go? Home , most likely, where one is loved.

      Reply
  18. Lauren Timmins

    I loved Jules Verne’s writing. His world-building is absolutely remarkable, as he managed to balance the surrealism of going to the center of the Earth or living for years on a submarine with perfectly believable “fact”, making it seem like such a thing could happen in reality. His characters are also very unique and memorable.

    Reply
  19. Dennis Fleming

    So many times I see the “show don’t tell” rule broken with amazing results. I believe the writer’s voice usually makes it possible to be successful.

    Reply
    • sherpeace

      I believe there is a time to show & a time to tell. I haven’t tried writing short stories much, but I think it is pretty hard to show a lot in that genre.
      Sherrie’s historically based, coming of age, Adventure novel “Secrets & Lies in El Salvador” is about an American girl in war-torn El Salvador:
      http://tinyurl.com/klxbt4y
      Her husband made a video for her novel. He wrote the song too:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P11Ch5chkAc

      Reply
  20. Tarren Young

    I don’t agree with the tell verus show. I’m a deeply detail orientated person who loves symbolism. I actually have to say, this condensded version did not move me at all, because, to me, there is no intimacy there. Yes, we know her name, and yes, not knowing the man’s name is important–we learned that from “Of Mice and Men” when he purposely didn’t name the farmer’s wife. I agree that we need to slow down on reading. I do that anyway. I was taught from 9th grade to underline and highlight passages and take notes in the book. It’s why I buy books as often as I can instead of on my e-reader, or I have a notebook close by when I borrow from our local library. I’m not saying I’m not learning anything from this, but I just don’t like the telling. I’d much rather see the beauty of the countryside she is seeing, listen to her thoughts, wondering where her love life went wrong, what issues are causing the kids into retreats and confusion,etc? This does not make me want to read the story, sadly.

    Reply
    • Jeffrey Wong

      I feel like the impersonal nature of this passage was indicative of the character”s thoughts and general attitude towards life. She is passė and the world around her is just moving on, just like you. She isn’t offering them something to sustain their interest. The passage even mentions that at some point, she had “become another woman” and “people were no longer so interested in getting to know her.” In that way, it works!

      But I agree with you that it doesn’t inspire me to read on either. But maybe we are not the intended audience or maybe we haven’t reached an age where we can fully empathize with the character”s situation (maybe some sort of midlife crisis?) Or maybe it’s some of the middle passages so we are missing context and the story starts with a vibrant young person brimming with life who slowly becomes someone just living without really feeling alive.

      Reply
      • sherpeace

        I wonder if this is a short story or part of a novel. Likely, a short story as there would be less room for details. Things have to happen fast in a short story.
        Sherrie’s historically based, coming of age, Adventure novel “Secrets & Lies in El Salvador” is about an American girl in war-torn El Salvador:
        http://tinyurl.com/klxbt4y
        Her husband made a video for her novel. He wrote the song too:
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P11Ch5chkAc

        Reply
      • Anita Graber

        I personally ally want to read something that puts me there-physically as well as emotionally. For me, no one does it better than Pat Conroy. His description of Charleston in South of Broad-the first page and a half of the novel, is the best. Or Ray Bradbury’s description of tennis shoes in Dandelion Wine-he goes on for at least a page making those things seem like the answer to king-of-the-hill domination. I want a pair NOW!
        I’m tired of the advice that cuts prose so close to the bone and leaves me hungry for the emotion that makes reading enjoyable. I want to savor a place, fall in love with a character and go along for the roller coaster ride with him or her in the sequence of events. I want to write like that too. Most of the advice I read for writing doesn’t help me get there.

        Reply
  21. Tina

    Munro evokes a mood or a feeling with set and setting. . This excerpt was from an earlier time—. But it is not just the time, or the mores. This maritime community or communities seem to metaphorically suggest that people are like islands to the strange and the alone. Not being a family woman of the fishing or boating community, she can be read as the strange. No longer living with the man in Kingston and divorced, she can be read as the (dreaded) alone.

    That she had an elegant way with words but not with what may be perceived as the simple things in life, she felt was nobody’s business. A very private person. Perhaps she was ashamed of her talent or education for a woman of that time. You could also guess that the man fit in better … possibly MUCH better.

    Reply
  22. I'm determined

    Thank you for this blog. You’ve helped me to understand the extent to which I’ve been doing this for yonks. Yes, excellent writing takes the reader along on a wonderland journey, full of delights and surprises, of Oh, is this realy happening, how is the Protagonist going to get out, survive? Then there is good writing, where the reader can pause, and marvel at the way an action, etc, is presented. Then there is also those not so good bits of writing in amongst otherwise okay writing. These once pulled me up short, irritated the hell out of me. How did this author get his/her work past the editior? But often the plot would be good. So I started to pause in my reading, rephrase, reframe the words to my satisfaction, then continue.
    I learnt a lot about good writing this way.
    Again, it’s practice, practice, practice. And no need to name author’s names, is there?

    Reply
  23. sherpeace

    I read a lot, but the only time I notice structure or words is when they don’t seem to fit. But I believe somehow the structure & word use gets into my subconscious because people can see some of my favorite authors in my writing.
    Sherrie’s historically based, coming of age, Adventure novel “Secrets & Lies in El Salvador” is about an American girl in war-torn El Salvador:
    http://tinyurl.com/klxbt4y
    Her husband made a video for her novel. He wrote the song too:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P11Ch5chkAc

    Reply
  24. sherpeace

    I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, Toni Morrison, as well as some of the younger, new Latino authors. But I always rad for enjoyment. If it gets tedious, I stop reading. I wish I knew how to read for structure, etc. I only seem to do that when I take a class & then, I usually am not a fan of the work chosen so it is easy to tear it apart.
    Sherrie’s historically based, coming of age, Adventure novel “Secrets & Lies in El Salvador” is about an American girl in war-torn El Salvador:
    http://tinyurl.com/klxbt4y
    Her husband made a video for her novel. He wrote the song too:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P11Ch5chkAc

    Reply
  25. Bruce Carroll

    The excerpt from “Dulse” bored me. I realize Munro is establishing Lydia’s ennui, but I share in it so much I have no interest in learning more about her. Perhaps she reminds me too much of people I know? For me personally, this would be an example of how I don’t want to write.

    Reply

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