1. loomingtale
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    loomingtale Member

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    Best Models for beginning writers?

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by loomingtale, Jul 1, 2012.

    There was a thread here about books that new writers shouldn't read; are there are any books that are great for beginning writers? Books that a new writer could analyse to know how things work, to learn the craft. I heard Joyce's The Dead is great for short stories. Anything for novels? Some literary masterpieces are so long and hard that they impede the whole learning process :(
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    As wide a variety as possible. All genres, many authors, good books more than bad (but you'll only know the difference after you have read plenty of both).

    Focusing on a few books or authors would be a grave mistake.
     
  3. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    There is really no way of answering that question with any list; any one anyone might give will leave writers out, or leave out certain things important out that you might want or need to know. Just read widely, read much, and read often. I'm published, I've been writing for a good few years now, and written numerous different pieces for numerous different reasons, and even now find that my style is something that is still really forming. Also there are so many different writers with their own strengths and weaknesses, for different people, so your question is frankly unanswerable. Remember: people have spent fortunes on ink just writing about Shakespeare's prose style.

    A good example of what I mean is this, take H.P. Lovecraft. His writing has many great problems: it's purple, melodramatic, silly, archaic, clunky, and largely uninteresting. But it also has many positives: a sense of atmosphere, dreaminess which helps with some of his stories and not with others, a sense of uniqueness that really helps, it is incredibly precise, sober, and to be honest it flows extremely nicely at times. If you find a Lovecraft story well written you just float through it. And style is not just related to semantics either. Lovecraft couldn't tell a story at all, and most of his stories can be reduced to 'man sees something he shouldn't have and runs away screaming', but at the same time it's Lovecraft's ideas that are so powerful they remain influential today. Lovecraft also has this pervading Philosophy behind his work too which really helps his writing, but his writing and stories are also almost hopelessly childish; his works also have this air of the occult, but at the same time a lot of the more famous stories are based on science fiction, and this is something Lovecraft never really satisfyingly settles. The worst thing about him though is if it's good its passable to great (depends on how generous you are feeling) if it's bad Lovecraft is maybe one of the worst writers still popular.

    This is just one example, and see how much can be said on the spot (which this post was written on) without using specific examples or going in to any depth. Don't look at just one writer, and just one style, look at a whole spectrum of writers and learn how well they can do some things and how poorly they can do other things. The worst thing you can possibly do is get stuck in one style, especially when it's not your own. Because writing in some styles is addictive, and it becomes harder and harder to break out of them.
     
  4. Captain Ahab
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    Captain Ahab Member

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    While I mostly agree with the above, I also believe that imitating and translating authors (plural) could be beneficial. Here are a few reading suggestions of what I think are examples of good writing:

    Magic Magee by Jerry Spinelli is one book that could teach you a lot about craft and structure.

    In the Penal Colony by Franz Kafka
    blueeyedboy by Joanne Harris
    Shaman's Crossing, Forest Mage and Renegade Magic (the Soldier's Son Trilogy) by Robin Hobb
    Poison Sleep by T.A. Pratt
    Richard II by William Shakespeare
    The Virgin of the Seven Daggers (and other short stories) by Vernon Lee

    The plays of Eugene O'Neill

    Poetry, such as Robert Frost and Ted Hughes

    Lives of the Cell by Lewis Thomas (non-fiction)

    Virginia Woolf, Jorge Luis Borges, Carson McCullers, Leo Tolstoy, Joseph Conrad, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Albert Camus, Herman Melville, Henry James, Sophocles, Ernest Hemingway Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, James Baldwin, etc etc etc
     
  5. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I may be on another track here, but I would tell beginning authors to first analyze the books they love to read. Then move on to other authors in the genre, and gradually to other genres.
     
  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    In addition to the classics, make sure to read contemporary writing as well. It's useful to know what kinds of books/stories are being published today.
     
  7. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Shadowwalkers right on -
    Find out what you like to read and read it , doesn't matter really what it is. It could be a non fiction book on gem folklore or Danielle Steel's latest romance. A lot of us will steer you to classic's or great non-genre read but though they're good, they don't make you a better writer. For me , discovering what I like to read is helped me discover what I like to write and that in turn has helped me out a lot more than struggling though something that's considered a great book.

    But on the flip side, as Cogito says , never get too comfortable within one genre. Mix it up.
     
  8. inkyliddlefingers
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    inkyliddlefingers Member

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    As an undergrad, I was encouraged to read the classics (I read Austen for humour and intellegent prose, Bronte for atmosphere and description, Dickens for characterisation etc), but it was manditory to read the Booker winner, the Orange prize winner, and other sucessful contemporary works. After this, we could read the more popular stuff.

    One professor even made us read the local newspaper and make a 2000 word short story out of any article within it! That was tough, as where I live nothing happens :)

    So, I am with cogito on this one: read, read, read. Anything and everything.
     
  9. aqibc10
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    aqibc10 New Member

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    Honestly, just pick up a book you've enjoyed and start reading. Then pick up your pen and start writing. Try to take from what you've read. You will get better at it over time. Then you will start to make slight edits, annotations, you will refine that particular style. At the end of the night, amidst empty coffee-stained mugs and rolled up paperballs, you'll have your unique writing style. I promise.
     
  10. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    I read a Booker winning book and I just couldn't put the book down, and then I happened to get hold of another book by a reputed English professor analyzing the book. I have to say it was a turning point in my writing. Reading the analysis I began to appreciate the art and the craft the writer employed to held my attention throughout the book. Before that I had no idea of writing rules and such and wrote everything instinctively. I learned to appreciate my own writing as well. Now I don't depend on others' views to decide why a good book is...well, a good book, but it might help a newbie to read the analysis of a good book after reading the book.
     
  11. Eliot Bauers
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    Eliot Bauers Member

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    _____Hey, you've got to be careful and careless when thinking about this. First, let's talk about being careful. Some people are tossing up names like Jane Austen, Franz Kafka Virginia Woolf... What else have we got here? Oh yeah, we can't live without Shakespeare! Or, can we? ALL OF THESE NAMES ARE ANCIENT! Do you really want to model your writing style on stuff that was written before World War I? Go ahead. Then, try reading it to your relatives, your friends (while they're still your friends, no guarantee after this little experiment), or somebody on the street. See what happens. Now, let's talk about being careless.
    _____Be careless about style! Beyond the basic mechanics, NOBODY has a solid-gold definition of what a good style is supposed to be. Literary profs have their definitions. Publishers have theirs. Writers have ideas too, about good style. But, if any of them had excellent writing down to a science, then every single one of those jokers would write nothing but best-selling novels. Since most jokers get published because they were persistent or well-connected instead of talented, you can see where this is going. (They rejected Stephen King and J.K. Rowling HOW many times? Yeah publishers, GOOD JOB ON RECOGNIZING TALENT THE FIRST TIME AROUND!) If people are going to talk trash about your writing style, to hell with those hellions. Your style is something you've got to find for yourself. Otherwise, you're just trying to be a clone.
     
  12. rick_danger
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    rick_danger Member

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    I would like to read some of these books.
     
  13. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    First, it's not just about style. It's about language, it's about story-telling, it's about characterization - with an open mind, one can learn a lot from all these authors, ancient or not.

    Second, there are quite a few published authors on this forum. You might want to reconsider remarks about jokers and talent (as in, where's your list of best-sellers?).

    Maybe a little less brashness and a little more thought would be in order. Just a suggestion.
     
  14. Jack Dawkins
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    Jack Dawkins Member

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    Magic Magee by Jerry Spinelli is an excellent suggestion and For myself I found that reading Elmore Leonard helped me write dialogue.
     
  15. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    In addition to reading books that are in the genre you want to write, I've found it very interesting to read biographies of authors, especially if I've recently read or reread one of their books. For example, I re-read To Kill a Mockingbird again recently, and also read a biography of Harper Lee called Mockingbird. It was interesting to see the parallels in her life that showed up in her writing, and her general outlook and writing process. I also read a new biography of David Foster Wallace, which was interesting, and I have, sitting on my nightstand a biography of J.D. Salinger that I haven't yet gotten to, but am looking forward to reading.

    So that's a sightly different way to go, in your search for insight on writing.
     
  16. Captain Ahab
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    Captain Ahab Member

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    I have just discovered Elmore Leonard, and yes I agree that there is a lot to learn from him. I read Djibouti (which he wrote last year at the age of 85), loved it, and bought Road Dogs, the next item on my reading list.
     
  17. Bright Shadow
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    Bright Shadow Member

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    I would like to say one note of warning:
    Go ahead, read the classics, but understand they are CLASSICS and not CONTEMPORARY. As in majority of them, do to changes in language and styles over the years, would not get published if they were submitted today. Not to say that the characters, ideas and general gist of the stories are bad, but just that what audiences expect changes as time goes by.

    As Mark Twain once said "a classic is a book that people praise and don't read."
     

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