1. LuminousTyto
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    LuminousTyto Senior Member

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    An intrigueing strategy for learning how to write?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by LuminousTyto, Aug 13, 2012.

    I was told by a guy on another forum that I should read short stories and even whole novels, and then go back over them longhand re-writing them word for word. He didn't really tell me the exact reason for this but I can speculate that it would be good for new writers in several areas.

    I think this strategy would be useful on improving grammar, especially punctuation. It would be good for learning story structure and character arcs because of such a slow read-through would cause the reader to pay more attention to these aspects of the novel, not to mention re-writing the whole thing! I also think it would be particularly useful in leaning the sound and rhythm of good writing!

    I'd like to know if anyone here has ever done this. Also, if you have or haven't give me your opinions on what you think about this?

    As far as my opinion goes, I think this was a piece of golden advice gilded with magical properties!
     
  2. marktx
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    marktx Contributing Member

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    Not sure I would be down with transcribing an entire novel by hand, but I can definitely see the value in doing a first-time read followed by one or more close reads. The second and third time through, you are likely to be more aware of the techniques that kept you spellbound during the first read.
     
  3. LuminousTyto
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    LuminousTyto Senior Member

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    An entire novel would be quite a bit of work, but you never know, it might be an effective way of learning. It would obviously take up a lot of time. One would have to be particularly determined, willing to put in lots of effort.
     
  4. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    That may not work since most writers break the main rules, and/or have poor writing, even in best sellers. I'd work on learning the rules, sitting down, using them, and write with you own style to develop.

    But I'd start by reading the classics, such as "Lolita" and a few others. Mom, who posts a lot, knows the list. I can't remember them all other then Lolita.
     
  5. LuminousTyto
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    LuminousTyto Senior Member

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    Yeah there's plenty of classics out there. If you were to transcribe some novels you'd definitely have to chose some high quality stuff.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I see no value at all in this. I could at least see some benefit in studying a piece and writing an alternate outcome for a decision point, trying to mimic the author's style. But playing medieval scribe? I don't think it's too harsh to call that an idiotic plan.
     
  7. LuminousTyto
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    LuminousTyto Senior Member

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    Play medieval scribe? Lol, I like that, you made me chuckle. Maybe you're right. But you've only addressed that last idea of rhythm and flow of words.
     
  8. simina
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    simina Senior Member

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    I actually think it's an interesting idea. Surely not for an entire novel, but I can see it being beneficial to do for a celebrated short story. It might really get you thinking about why the writer did the things they did and to what effect.
     
  9. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    There is nothing wrong with re-reading a work and even making some analytical notes on it. I do that myself sometimes, to see how an author might have tackled a particular problem of writing with which I am struggling. But copying it word for word is nonsensical. The only things I see that yielding are: 1) a very large pile of paper, 2) a very sore wrist and 3) a confused novice writer.
     
  10. LuminousTyto
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    LuminousTyto Senior Member

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    Yeah, might be.
     
  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    It doesn't make sense to me. I think that you'd be better off spending those hours reading more books.
     
  12. Pheonix
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    Pheonix A Singer of Space Operas and The Fourth Mod of RP Staff Contributor

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    This reminds me of a get rich quick scheme. It sounds mostly plausible until you think about it hard enough, then it just kinda sounds like a waste of time. I think you could learn more about the mechanics and character development just by reading a few of the classics. And it would probly take about the same amount of time. And then, you get the satisfaction and enjoyment from having read a really good book.

    My suggestion, read a classic, like War and Peace, by Tolstoy, and really pay attention to characterization and plot, and how the two fit together. Then keep reading books like that... FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. Then, you'll have a pretty good knowledge base to work off. :) And the satisfaction of having read more than any of your friends! (unless your friends are college professors)
     
  13. Edward M. Grant
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    Edward M. Grant Contributing Member

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    It's something at least one established writer has suggested on web forums as a means of studying how successful writers write; not copying an entire novel, but at least the first few pages. I haven't tried it myself, but I can see how it could be more effective than just reading the words and believing you've studied them.
     
  14. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Different people have different ways of learning. This might be effective for one person but not for the next. I've never tried it, but Robert Louis Stevenson famously did, and it seems to have worked for him.

    If I were to try it, I might learn something in the first page or two, but after that I expect my eyes would glaze over and I'd just copy mechanically, not really paying attention to what I'm doing. I know myself well enough to know that this wouldn't work for me.
     
  15. GHarrison
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    GHarrison Senior Member

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    Coming from a scholarly visual art background, I can say that in the world of painting and sculpture, duplicating the works of the masters as an exercise definitely improves the artist's craft.

    That being said, I believe re-writing words from a page would do nothing to improve ones writing. Reading, re-reading, and evaluating definitely will, but copying words, no. You would be much better served reading criticism, rewriting the author's work from another POV, discussing work with a freind who has also read the work, or, even, studying a 6th grade book on grammar.

    Copying an author's work longhand will do one thing for you, IMHO, and that would be: expend your valuable time.
     
  16. prettyprettyprettygood
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    prettyprettyprettygood Active Member

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    Blimey that sounds boring! I can see the use in reading a book once for enjoyment, then again to analyse it and make notes on what works and doesn't work, but just copying the words really doesn't sound like a good use of one's time. Perhaps it could be helpful if you're just learning the language the book is in, but even then there are more efficient and enjoyable ways to learn.
     
  17. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm sorry, but I'm with Cog on this one. Idiotic is probably an understatement.

    The first 5 years of my school life I was schooled in Hong Kong (between ages 3-8) and I've had my share of copying things and reciting things. Trust me when I say that you certainly do NOT analyse writing when you're copy, you do NOT notice anything. In fact, you switch off - you're no longer reading but only processing the words, not connecting them into a sentence which would hold meaning. The end result is a perfect copy, and very little thinking beyond - well - perhaps improving your spelling. This practice was used to help us memorise how to write Chinese words, so it had a purpose - now I know English spelling is meant to be "oh so difficult" and all, but trust me when I say I don't think you need to employ such a tedious and mind-numbing method to improve your English spelling - it's not so hard that it warrants this.

    So if it's spelling you wanna improve, then feel free. But then it might be better to recite rather than copy.

    But copying as a way of improving your actual writing skills? Don't make me laugh.
     
  18. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    John Gardner, in "On Becoming a Novelist", mentions this. I believe it could be helpful, in the way that student painters copy the Masters - it's a more in-depth studying of the style than just reading it, however analytically. That said, I wouldn't spend a great deal of time doing it, and it wouldn't (shouldn't) be of much value to someone who has been writing for some time.
     
  19. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    No offense, but why can't you just read it? You'll learn a lot more by reading the book than re-writing it by hand.

    Plus, that time spent playing, as Cog put it, medieval scribe, transcribing something that you already have, you could instead spend it reading other books as well as the one you wanted to re-write.

    And like Mckk said, you're not learning anything new. Your brain automatically switches to 'I am writing the words as I see it on paper.'

    Excellent tool if you wanted to learn how to write in English? Sure. But the only way to learn how to write is to read and write down what you liked and didn't like about the book, write down what you would've done differently had you been the author. Also, re-read any old drafts and jot down notes on what you can improve on.
     
  20. dlaiden
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    dlaiden New Member

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    As others have said, re-reading inspiring/classic works is a much better method for improving your writing as you can pick up on technique and style. The danger with copying another's writing word for word is that you'll either learn nothing, because the writing becomes a passive process, or you memorise it and begin to drop the direct words and phrases of another's work into your own. And you don't want that.
     
  21. introspect
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    introspect Member

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    An intrigueing strategy for learning how to write?

    I agree, with what everyone said.

    There's no point to this? maybe its more about confidence issues than anythink else.
     
  22. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    add me to the naysayers on this... nonsensical to the max, imo...
     
  23. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I'd ditch that idea - too time consuming and there is no guarantee that it would
    pay off. But if you want to learn about how to structure a story, try essay's that
    pull apart a piece of literature. Get books on literature studies and learn the different
    layers of a story. I've been reading the Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker and it's
    really fascinating. They're not blue prints mind you, they're just ways of better
    understanding how fiction works.

    Or even read something like the Lord of the Flies along with the Coles notes.
     

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