How to study writing


Me? Writing about how to write??

I know, not my usual beat, but I think I’d like to highlight a few things:

For today, I want to talk about how we study writing. First, check out this post on passing exposition through character voice by Kelley Eskridge. Go and read it. It’s wonderful writing whether you need the lesson or not.

Second, look at this post by David Hines regarding character identification. In it, he breaks down several sections of A Song of Ice And Fire to examine where GRRM succeeds and fails, partly reinventing the Eight Deadly Words Test at the same time.

I offer these two links from two very different writers not only as worthy lessons in themselves, but as a model for learning to write. There are an awful lot of people happy to talk about the art and craft of writing in purely theoretical terms: how to build tension, how to write dialog, how to endure the midbook slump. I once read a writing advice book that listed the six ways a writer could introduce and establish a sympathetic protagonist.

Here’s a probably apocryphal story: An aspiring thriller writer wanted to be a bestseller, and he heard that Robin Cook, who wrote Coma, studied the thriller market first by reading 100 successful books in the genre. The aspiring thriller, hearing this, decided he would just read Cook’s novel, since all the lessons would be distilled in there.

There’s a lot of pre-digested literary theory out there, but I think the best way to learn is to find work like your own that you also admire and study it closely. Retype a chapter so you aren’t tempted to skim. Reread several times. Look for text where you think things are being done badly. Most important of all, develop your own theory rather than receive them second-hand.

Theoretical conversations can be interesting and fun, but speaking from personal experience, I say study texts.

2 thoughts on “How to study writing

  1. Harry, I’ve just emerged blinking from my editing den to find your post. Thanks very much for the link, and I’m delighted you found it valuable.

    I agree: the best way to learn writing is by doing, by finding one’s own theory from practice. Theory without experience is… well, that’s a whole other conversation (smile).

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