Monday, September 1, 2008

Masters of the Craft

No matter how many books I'll ever write and no matter how long I struggle at this writing thing, I am well aware that I will eternally be learning the craft of writing. I don’t have as much time to read as I used to, so I most often listen to books on tape or CD. I also used to finish every book I started, but I don’t do that anymore either. If that writer hasn’t grabbed me by the throat in the first 15-20 minutes, I’m outta there. However, it’s not always just the storyline or the hook that makes me keep listening. Sometimes it is the sheer grace of the language.
You don’t have to like Stephen King to appreciate how he has mastered the craft of writing. (Some people don’t know that he writes other things than horror, like THE GREEN MILE and THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION.) By crafting the language, I don’t mean that I am impressed by the words he uses. I’m blown away by the way he chooses just the right word to nail the image or emotion, how he strings the words together, the unusual and creative similes and metaphors. There are a lot of authors out there who are good at manipulating the language to make meaning and to create clear and emotive images. I’ll stay with that author all the way through to the end even if I haven’t embraced the storyline. And if I am totally entranced, then I have to go out and buy the paper edition so I can study it. How did that author do that?
I am also amazed at the punctuation certain writers use to make meaning. When I sit down and really examine text like that, I realize there are so many things coming into play——the words, the combinations, the sentence structure, the choice of punctuation . . . At this point I am not reading for the story (reading like a reader), but rather I am reading like a writer. There are hundreds of master craftsmen for me to choose as personal mentors. Their books are the ones I keep on my shelf and will never part with. I am forever a student, and those are my text books that I return to time after time. Those master authors keep me humble. There is always so much more to learn.


Anonymous said...

Your site is a book smorgasbord. Glad I clicked!

G.M. Malliet said...

Lynn - I can't remember when I stopped reading as a reader, and started reading v-e-r-y slowly as a writer, stopping to analyze anything that really grabbed me. Figuring out how another writer achieved the effect he or she made sounds like work but I find it fascinating, as you do.

Punctuation has a lot to do with it. Writing is a lot like music. It's *exactly* like music.

Anonymous said...

Philip Roth is another of those writers that give you the sense that every word he's chosen is exactly the right word and doing a lot of work. He'll always be on my shelf. I've read one of his books (The Ghost Writer) more than a dozen times. These are the kinds of writers who will be remembered.

Felicia Donovan said...

I love G.M.'s comparison to music. What a great statement and so true. The plot has crescendo and decrescendo, the characters must carry the melody but sometimes are dischordant which makes them richer. The pace...ahhh...the pace. It must carry the reader from beginning to end but not be so rhythmic as to be predictable. An off-beat is okay here and there.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I'm that way with movie and TV dialogue, too. When a character delivers a particularly meaningful run of words, I stop and think: "Wow, what great writing."

Every book is a classroom. Every writer a teacher. I learn as much from the books I don't like as I do from those I do.

Joe Moore said...

"Every book is a classroom. Every writer a teacher."

Nicely put, Sue Ann.