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Monday, November 24, 2014

Learning How to Write Good Prose


Clearly, our writing can only get better. I know mine has. But how?




Online Creative Writing Courses. A quick search of area colleges and universities gave me all I needed to know about the abundance of credit and non-credit courses. I can show up in class or take a variety of courses online in my pajamas, if I prefer. Check your state. Missouri has an easily navigable website that gives oodles of info.

Adult Ed Classes. In my county, we have a semi-annual offering of self-help courses at the local tech school. The classes run from learning to knit or paint and credited colleges courses to CPR and computers. Within the last couple of years, they began offering creative writing and how to be published also.

Self-Help books. My list of these books is huge. Starting
with one of my first purchases, The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need by Susan Thurman. I bought it to learn the basics. From commas to passive verbs, this was my bible. From there I went onto how to compose hook sentences, editing, etc.

  • Hooked – Les Edgerton
  • The First Five Pages – Noah Lukeman
  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers – Renni Browne & Dave King
  • Writing Tools – Roy Peter Clark (highly recommend this one!)
  • The Breakout Novelist – Donald Maass. This book has worksheets that help a writer get in touch with their characters.
  • Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing – Mignon Fogarty
  • On Writing – Stephen King
  • Plot & Structure – James Scott Bell
  • Conflict, Action, & Suspense – William Noble
  • Showing & Telling – Laurie Alberts
  • And the one book that I couldn’t live without:
  • The Emotion Thesaurus – Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi

All of these help to instruct and inform the budding writer. I find over time that I don’t need some of them like I did at first. But I still use them. It helps to go back and study On Writing, for instance, and Self-Editing. It’s always good to thumb through and refresh my memory.

Reading. All the above suggestions on how to improve your writing is good. Very good. But consider also reading established authors.

When I read a passage from a beloved book, I note how it affects me. I end up dissecting that scene—the words, the phrases—to discover why it leaves me breathless. Most times, sentence structure, not the storyline, is what makes me gasp.

Simple lines in The Two Towers, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, in the chapter The Choices of Samwise, speak without excess. In the scene, Sam thought Frodo was dead, stung by Shelob, a huge spider. He had no desire to continue the journey, to take the ring to Mount Doom. His world began and ended at his master’s side. One of his choices? “He looked at the bright point of the sword.”

A better definition of show vs tell I cannot think of.

College courses and How-To books are great. I love Stephen King’s On Writing for example. But reading his novels seems a surer path to learning. I note things like how he places a scene, when I first bonded with the character, where he inserts the nouns and verbs. I look at his sentence structure, how he intersperses long sentences with short ones.

Creative writing courses are wonderful. I highly recommend them. But don’t forget to read and dissect established authors’ novels. And watching the people in the mall.

They are your real teachers.

Got any books not listed here? I'd love to hear about them.



3 comments:

Angela Brown said...

I've been told that Blake Snyder's Save the Cat is also an excellent resource. Even though it is for screenwriting, it still boils down to the best ways to tell your story.

Liz A. said...

I find reading bad books helps, too. They're good examples of what not to do. (Why did this annoy me? What's wrong with this scene? Etc.)

Caryn Caldwell said...

These are great suggestions! I'm a huge fan of the Emotion Thesaurus. It is invaluable. I have a few others, too, but there are a few on you list that I haven't read. I must try them now! Thanks!