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Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby lish1936 » Tue Jun 10, 2014 11:15 am

Jan wrote:It's a very subtle thing, but I think I might know why Angelou chose "for weeks after"


I SEE it! Jan, you're a pro for pointing out that subtlety. :D

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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby swfdoc1 » Wed Jun 11, 2014 12:05 am

Jan, your question, as well as a comment on this thread and one or more on another of your threads got me to thinking about a bunch of stuff. First of all, how much of what we do and don’t like is due to our developed or undeveloped tastes? Make any comparison you want to regarding food or drink: quality vs. mass produced coffee, tea, wine, beer; haute cuisine, ethnic cuisine of every variety; dark chocolate vs. milk chocolate; etc. These are all acquired tastes, and—laying aside the snob factor and honest differences in tastes—there absolutely is something to the idea of needing to develop our tastes. That was one of the points in the article that Leah linked to about adults reading YA fiction. By the way, I don’t have a dog in that fight (other than the validity of the point I just mentioned); the article has brought some scathing blowback, which makes some valid counterpoints.

I’ve thought about this with regard to whether my own tastes may not be adequately developed. I know that I’ve started Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum several times and never gotten very far. I don’t like Hemingway, on the whole, as much as I “should,” either the novels or the short stories, although I find certain individual passages superb. Same with Carl Sandberg’s Abraham Lincoln.

One other quick thought before turning to your question. I think Lillian is right that that sentence from Maya Angelou is easy to mis-read, but I think you are also right, Jan, about Angelou’s word choice. The easy answer, would have been for Angelou to add the comma between “that” and “I.” alternatively, she could have used the double “that”: “ I felt for weeks after that that I had been . . . .”

As for your question, the thing that struck me was how hard it was to answer. Mostly what I read is the Bible, biblical commentaries, court opinions, law review articles, and other academic materials. For reasons that might or might not be obvious to others, but which are obvious to me, I did not include those as sources from which to draw an answer.

No big deal, I thought to myself. Even though the above materials are what I MOSTLY read, I read plenty of other things, too. Surely, I thought, I can answer this question. Especially since I am a multi-book-simultaneously reader. But then I eliminated many of the those books, too. I am reading a book on chess strategy, a (published) diary, a book of speeches showing the author’s original draft plus his alterations, Agatha Christie’s The Grand Tour (which is really a bunch of her letters edited by her grandson together with photos, newspaper clippings, etc.), and Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Alice (an annotated edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Though the Looking Glass) (another book that I have started many times, but never finished). I eliminated all of these for reasons that again might or might not be obvious to others but which are obvious to me.

That still left a few. Several of the books I mentioned above, I am trying again to read. Those include Sandberg’s Lincoln, Hemingway’s In Our Time, and Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. In addition, I am reading 2 by Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and a lesser known one, Tom Sawyer, Detective. Finally (or close enough), I am reading one “Christian” novel.

But, trying to find a passage from these presented still presented two problems: First, as mentioned above, whether because my taste is underdeveloped or whether it is just different from other people’s, I haven’t found a lot of passages that are so good or so bad that they qualify for your question. Second, even when I remember that a book contains such passages, I can’t quickly find them.

But, in my attempt to somehow answer the question, I thought go back to the opening pages of Foucault’s Pendulum, which I have examined multiple times. You can see them here (click on "Look INside"; then click a few pages into the book to get past hte Table of Contents to the first page of text).

After looking at them, perhaps you will see why I wonder whether my tastes are simply not adequately developed. This chapter begins with a Hebrew quotation; other chapters begin with others quotations from esoterica, many in foreign languages.

But, if one ignores these—and what did Eco expect (especially of North American readers?)—the opening paragraphs are quite interesting, if one can plow through their denseness. The third paragraph drew me into the feeling of the arcane (to use a word of Eco’s translator), if not the occult: “the magic of that serene breathing”; the description of π; and “singularity . . . duality . . . triadic . . . the secret quadratic . . . .” Yet, the next paragraph let me know both of the author’s dry playfulness and that something was afoot other than what the third paragraph had led me to believe: the pendulum was a fraud.

And the next paragraph—the fifth—both contains great writing and caused me to reconsider my re-consideration of what was going to happen in this book with its references to Atlantis, Mu, the Masters, Agarttha, and Avalon, mixed with references to real places—all in support of creating the sensation of a pendulum (to return to the point about great writing).

Yet, having said this, I still wonder whether I’ll ever be able to slog all the way through this book.
Steve
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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby glorybee » Wed Jun 11, 2014 9:09 am

swfdoc1 wrote:
Yet, having said this, I still wonder whether I’ll ever be able to slog all the way through this book.


Steve, you've convinced me. NOT to try to read this book.

Apparently, my tastes in reading are at about 3rd grade level...I don't want to have to WORK at a book.

But you're right, of course, that there are any number of factors contributing to one's tastes in literature (or in anything else).
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby swfdoc1 » Wed Jun 11, 2014 9:31 am

I don't mind a book that requires SOME work. That's a different kind of read with a different kind of reward. I just don't know whether I'll ever be willing to work as hard as necessary to get through this book. The thing that interests me is that this stuff had to be translated from Italian and it goes on for 641 pages, yet Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovitch still thought it was worth publishing.
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"When the Round Table is broken every man must follow Galahad or Mordred; middle
things are gone." C.S. Lewis
“The chief purpose of life … is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis ... We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendor.” J.R.R. Tolkien

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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby Francie » Wed Jun 11, 2014 8:47 pm

I too have the same question of the previous reply. I noted some errors in punctuation, but would like to know what else I have missed that is flawed in the writing. Thanks for your response. :thankssign

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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby glorybee » Wed Jun 11, 2014 8:52 pm

Francie wrote:I too have the same question of the previous reply. I noted some errors in punctuation, but would like to know what else I have missed that is flawed in the writing. Thanks for your response. :thankssign


Francie, is this question about my original post on this thread? I answered it already...scroll down to the third post on the first page, and you'll see my list.

If I've misunderstood your question, please let me know, and I'll try to be more helpful.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby CatLin » Wed Jun 11, 2014 10:35 pm

I'm reading "The Goldfinch" by Diana Tartt and am absolutely enthralled. I love her metaphorical descriptions and the soft gentle 1st person voice that is telling you a sad, horrible story.

I opened my Kindle PC app and this is just a random example from a scene where she makes a cluttered furniture restoration workshop come alive and move and breath .....

Downstairs— weak light, wood shavings on the floor— there was something of the feel of a stable, great beasts standing patiently in the dim. Hobie made me see the creaturely quality of good furniture, in how he talked of pieces as “he” and “she,” in the muscular, almost animal quality that distinguished great pieces from their stiff, boxy, more mannered peers and in the affectionate way he ran his hand along the dark, glowing flanks of his sideboards and lowboys, like pets.

I'm a fan of long sentences. I write a lot of them, but then go back and painstakingly break them up while editing because I've been called out on them. Why is it okay in Pulitzer prize winning novels but not for the average Joe Writer? This is another snippet I found at random:

I felt better knowing he was only a bus ride away, a straight shot down Fifth Avenue; and in the night when I woke up jarred and panicked, the explosion plunging through me all over again, sometimes I could lull myself back to sleep by thinking of his house, where without even realizing it you slipped away sometimes into 1850, a world of ticking clocks and creaking floorboards, copper pots and baskets of turnips and onions in the kitchen, candle flames leaning all to the left in the draft of an opened door and tall parlor windows billowing and swagged like ball gowns, cool quiet rooms where old things slept.

I have lain awake at night, heart racing, thinking about Theo, worried about him and creating conversations he SHOULD have and steps he SHOULD take, like he's a real kid. A mixed up, scared but brave, stupid but superintelligent, kid.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby WriterFearNot » Wed Jun 11, 2014 10:52 pm

On the topic of "learning from the pros," I enjoy reading classics. They take more work to read than today's fiction because they often have way more pages, longer and more complicated sentences, and much bigger paragraphs. And I wouldn't try to copy that aspect of their style, but what I would very much like to pick up from authors of classics, is their careful attention to the depth of the human condition. These classic authors rarely scraped the surface of emotions and life experiences, they dove in hard.

To give an example, one of my favorite classics is The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Something I enjoyed about this book is how Dostoevsky beautifully presented two opposing positions on religion and God, through the opposing beliefs of two brothers.

And even though I wouldn't try to emulate this loooong sentence of Dostoevsky's, I marvel at it. It is quite masterful:

"He remembered one still summer evening, an open window, the slanting rays of the setting sun(that he recalled most vividly of all); in a corner of the room the holy image, before it a lighted lamp, and on her knees before the image his mother, sobbing hysterically with cries and moans, snatching him up in both arms, squeezing him close till it hurt, and praying for him to the Mother of God, holding him out in both arms to the image as though to put him under the Mother's protection...and suddenly a nurse runs in and snatches him from her terror."

The book is filled with long sentences like this. As a reader in today's instant gratification culture, you really have to go into the book prepared to slow down, and to just let the book soak in. And if you're able to do this, your reward is taking in a rather beautiful, deep story, filled with marvelous descriptions, like,

"I have mentioned already that he looked bloated. His countenance at this time bore traces of something that testified unmistakably to the life he had led. Besides the long fleshy bags under his little, always insolent, suspicious, and ironical eyes; besides the multitude of deep wrinkles in his little fat face, the Adam's apple hung below his sharp chin like a great, fleshy goiter, which gave him a peculiar, repulsive, sensual appearance; add to that a long rapacious mouth with full lips, between which could be seen little stumps of black decayed teeth."

And it's not just the well-written long sentences, and the wonderful descriptions, (and here I suppose I'm only talking about certain classics, since not all classics are long and have long sentences and paragraphs) but the story that is told. It's rare to find books published today that dive into as much depth you typically find in the classics.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby rcthebanditqueen » Thu Jun 12, 2014 9:11 am

CatLin wrote:I'm a fan of long sentences. I write a lot of them, but then go back and painstakingly break them up while editing because I've been called out on them. Why is it okay in Pulitzer prize winning novels but not for the average Joe Writer?


^ THIS. I am the same way.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby CatLin » Thu Jun 12, 2014 11:23 pm

rcthebanditqueen wrote:
CatLin wrote:I'm a fan of long sentences. I write a lot of them, but then go back and painstakingly break them up while editing because I've been called out on them. Why is it okay in Pulitzer prize winning novels but not for the average Joe Writer?


^ THIS. I am the same way.


:D :coolsign
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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby Shann » Fri Jun 13, 2014 7:05 pm

This is more a question that makes me wonder how odd I am. The rules you listed that are broken in the "correct" way so that it works doesn't bother me, but I have noticed something since I started editing on a regular basis. I'm finding it difficult, almost impossible in some cases, to read just for the sheer pleasure.

I've always loved reading and am a fairly fast reader when the mood strikes me, knocking off a couple of novels a day (or more if I'm feeling lousy enough to not be able to do much else. I've noticed lately that I can't figure out how to turn off the editing button.

On vacation, I did manage to read two James Patterson books in as many days, but it took me a few tries before I learned to turn off the editor and just delight in the suspense. Does anyone else have trouble doing that?

Even before I started edited, I found myself noticing things that someone might have mentioned on one of my stories and looking to see if maybe more showing was needed or even more telling. Suddenly, the phrase purple prose which I'd never heard of before joining FW was popping up in some stories I had loved before. So what's the secret?
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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby glorybee » Fri Jun 13, 2014 8:11 pm

I don't usually have that trouble, although I do catch the occasional typo. I think the key is to only read the works of very excellent writers. If I'm reading something that irritates me because it's poorly written or poorly edited, I just stop reading it. Life's too short.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby rcthebanditqueen » Sat Jun 14, 2014 10:06 pm

I am curious, what is purple prose?

I too have trouble turning off my 'inner editor' sometimes. Not that I am a professional editor, but I did grow up familiar with spelling and grammar. When my dad wrote his self-published book, my mom and sister and I all had our own copy to edit. I had a little red pen of my own and I was so proud. :D When I come across a grammar problem or typo it stands out to me.

I recently read a nonfiction book called "How Did We Get It So Wrong: The Reality of Ignoring Nature" by Chip Hines. It is a self-published book, written by an old rancher who discusses the variance between livestock bred for show versus those bred for health, proper structure, and production. The book was worth reading to hear his philosophy, but the reading was like nails on a chalkboard to me :P. The grammar, sentence structure, and spelling was...um...let's say, hard to wade through. There was a sentence in which the words should have been "bla bla bla is commensurate with blee blee blee". Instead it was "commiserate". :? *beats head on desk*

The overall writing style was informal, like listening to an old cowboy talk whilst sitting on the porch sipping tea. I enjoy that. But...holy frijole! The typos!! Aargh! Oh well...I liked hearing what he had to say.

Although I read the book for other reasons than enjoyment, it was an exception. I do agree with Glorybee...when "reading something that irritates me because it's poorly written or poorly edited, I just stop reading it. Life's too short." :mrgreen:

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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby glorybee » Sat Jun 14, 2014 10:12 pm

Purple prose is overly descriptive, flowery, sentimental, ornate writing...so over-the-top that the characters and plot are lost in the forest of words.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby rcthebanditqueen » Fri Jun 20, 2014 2:12 pm

glorybee wrote:Purple prose is overly descriptive, flowery, sentimental, ornate writing...so over-the-top that the characters and plot are lost in the forest of words.


Aha...thank you!

I've never done that. Nope. Not me. Totally innocent. :wink:

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