Hello dear readers!
I took a week off from posting last week because my plantar fasciitis came back and was threatening my sanity. The pain had killed my mood and I was not in a good headspace. So, when I was not at work, I played Breath of the Wild and read. I actually read a lot; but not for fun, I was doing research. I grabbed some of my favorite books and dissected them so that I could get to the hidden technique of any great story, the prose.
Admittedly, I feel like writing prose is my biggest weakness as a storyteller. I can come up with interesting ideas, construct sound plots, pace a story, blah blah blah; but the actual technique of putting interesting words together in an interesting way and making it interesting, I’m not great at.
And I want to be great. So, I decided to try and learn from the best. What got me started on this idea was something that I had read about Hunter S. Thompson and his study of prose, which in and of itself I found hilarious. To practice his writing technique, the creator of “Gonzo Journalism” would copy word for word his favorite novel, “The Great Gatsby,” from start to finish. Whatever is the connection between F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing and Hunter S. Thompson’s is completely lost to me, but it must have worked. Hunter S. Thompson is a legend and whatever worked for him could probably work for me as well.
So I took 5 authors that I thought wrote with beautiful prose that I would someday love to emulate and I copied a section of their writing word for word. I tried to find my selections from memory so that way it was something that stuck with me for one reason or another and I looked at it to figure out why it was so memorable to me. Here is the result of that research:
Patrick Rothfuss – The Name of the Wind
IT WAS ONE OF those perfect autumn days so common in stories and so rare in the real world. The weather was warm and dry, ideal for ripening a field of wheat or corn. On both sides of the road the trees were changing color. Tall poplars had gone a buttery yellow while the shrubby sumac encroaching on the road was tinged a violent red. Only the old oaks seemed reluctant to give up the summer, and their leaves remained an even mingling of gold and green.
Everything said, you couldn’t hope for a nicer day to have a half dozen ex-soldiers with hunting bows relieve you of everything you owned.
- Rothfuss uses unexpected adjectives that draw the reader’s attention and adds a vibe to the flow that tells the reader how to interpret what they are reading. The adjectives are visceral; relating more to emotion than to intellect (i.e. buttery yellow and violent red).
- He does use the third person in a way that bothers me. I do not like when the nameless narrator has an opinion or narrative style all their own. I like to be character focused. Anything that the narrator says should be something that reveals the plot or the character.
- I do like the tonal shift at the end of the paragraph to shock the reader into noticing that you are about to be robbed.
Raymond Carver – What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
Mel said, “The kind of love I’m talking about is. The kind of love I’m talking about, you don’t try and kill people.”
Laura said, “I don’t know anything about Ed, or about the situation. But who can judge anyone else’s situation?”
I touched the back of Laura’s hand. She gave me a quick smile. I picked up Laura’s hand. It was warm, the nails polished, perfectly manicured. I encircled the broad wrist with my fingers, and I held her
“When I left, he drank rat poison,” Terri said. She clasped her arms with her hands. “They took him to the hospital in Santa Fe. That’s where we lived then, about ten miles out. They saved his life. But his gums went crazy from it. I mean they pulled away his teeth. After that, his teeth stood out like fangs. My God,” Terri said. She waited a minute, then let go of her arms and picked up her glass.
“What people won’t do!” Laura said.
Laura is a legal secretary. We’d met in a professional capacity. Before we knew it, it was a courtship. She’s thirty-five, three years younger than I am. In addition to being in love, we like each other and enjoy each other’s company. She’s easy to be with.
Outside in the backyard, one of the dogs began to bark. The leaves of the aspen that leaned against the window ticked against the glass. The afternoon sun was like a presence in the room, the spacious light of ease and generosity. We could have been anywhere, somewhere enchanted. We raised our glasses again and grinned at each other like children who agreed on something forbidden.
- Showing the hand touching and the juxtaposition of Terri touching her own hand is a great way to say that Laura and Nick are much closer than Mel and Terri. Having a juxtaposition of images can really reinforce both sides of the same subject.
- Carver uses his metaphors and descriptors about the surroundings all at once. It leaves an impression and sets the scene up for the reader, letting them know what to expect. It also gives a good break to all of the dialogue before and after it, almost like a chapter break.
- It reveals a lot about a character when you show what they notice about their surroundings. Instead of saying that there is a sunset to show that night is approaching, they notice the changing light hitting the leaves, turning them a lovely shade of red reminiscent of mother’s strawberry pie. Now it is getting to be nighttime, but also the character is happy, hungry, and has a good relationship with his mother. Something like that.
Jack Kerouac – On The Road
The boys nodded vaguely; they didn’t take much stock in his advice. Meanwhile the blond young fugitive sat the same way; every now and then Gene leaned over from his Buddhistic trance over the rushing dark plains and said something tenderly in the boy’s ear. The boy nodded. Gene was taking care of him, even his moods and his fears. I wondered where the hell they would go and what they could do. They had no cigarettes. I squandered my pack on them. I loved them so much. They were grateful and gracious. They never asked; I kept offering. Montana Slim had his own but never passed the pack. We zoomed through another crossroads town, passed another line of tall lanky men in jeans, clustered in the dim light like moths on the desert, and returned to the tremendous darkness…and the stars overhead were as pure and bright, because of the increasingly thin air as we mounted the high hill of the western plateau about a foot a mile, so they say, and a mile a minute, pure clean air, and no trees obstructing any low-leveled stars anywhere. And once I saw a moody whitefaced cow in the sage by the road as we flitted by. It was like riding a railroad train, just as steady and just as straight.
- Instead of writing “stared off into the distance,” Kerouac called it a “Buddhistic trance. This is much more evocative and adds more layers to the moment, giving a specified quality to the moment. Instead of being lost in his thoughts, it is a purposeful and peaceful quiet.
- He says things succinctly in a way that the reader can extrapolate so much meaning from. “Gene was taking care of him, even his moods and his fears.” It shows that not only is he his caretaker but also his confidant and that Gene has an emotional connection with the boy. He is a caring father figure. It is good to say things in a way that the reader will understand the meaning of what is written but that they can also interpret and fill in the gaps in their own way. Such as that Gene may be related to the boy, a lover, someone who may feel guilty that they have ended up in such a bad way and that Gene is trying to make it up to the boy and “fix” his life.
- He spends twelve short sentences describing the boy and his caretaker. One sentence describing another character that loosely fit the meaning of what he was just writing about. Then one incredibly long, flowing sentence about the scenery filled with lots of metaphors and sensory imagery. Then two medium sentences to reinforce the long one. The whole thing shows the real connection he had to these people. The description of the scenery and the way Kerouac expresses it gives a complete picture of the moment. I think that the amount of sentences and the shortness of them showed the much more real connection he had to the people on the back of the truck and the immediacy of that connection. The long sentence imitates the trip and the road. The short sentences are an observation about a short amount of time. The long sentence is about the trip as a whole and about a longer part of time.
F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby
And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.
There was so much to read, for one thing, and so much fine health to be pulled down out of the young breath-giving air. I caught a dozen volumes on banking and credit and investment securities, and they stood on my shelf in red and gold like new money from the mint, promising to unfold the shining secrets that only Midas and Morgan and Maecenas knew. And I had the high intention of reading many other books besides. I was rather literary in college – one year I wrote a series of very solemn and obvious editorials for the Yale News – and now I was going to bring back all such things into my life and become again that most limited of all specialists, the ‘well-rounded man.’ This isn’t just an epigram – life is much more successfully looked at from a single window, after all.
- “Young breath-giving air” really helps drive the point home about the optimism and excitement of his future. Evokes the feeling of starting a new chapter in his life.
- He reveals backstory by connecting it to the present moment. Might be a much better way to deal with exposition.
- I like that Fitzgerald ends the paragraph by summing it up with a metaphor that makes you think about everything he just wrote about. I think leaving the reader to figure out the meaning of the last sentence using the context of the paragraph (or whatever) before it will drive home the point you are making to the reader.
Haruki Murakami (translated by Jay Rubin) – The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along with an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie, which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta.
I wanted to ignore the phone, not only because the spaghetti was nearly done, but because Claudio Abbado was bringing the London Symphony to its musical climax. Finally, though, I had to give in. It could have been somebody with news of a job opening. I lowered the flame, went to the living room, and picked up the receiver.
“Ten minutes, please,” said a woman on the other end.
I’m good at recognizing people’s voices, but this was not one I knew.
“Excuse me? To whom did you wish to speak?”
“To you, of course. Ten minutes, please. That’s all we need to understand each other.” Her voice was low and soft but otherwise nondescript.
“Understand Each other?”
“Each other’s feelings.”
I leaned over and peeked through the kitchen door. The spaghetti pot was steaming nicely, and Claudio Abbado was still conducting The Thieving Magpie.
“Sorry, but you caught me in the middle of making spaghetti. Can I ask you to call back later?”
“Spaghetti? What are you doing cooking spaghetti at ten-thirty in the morning?”
“That’s none of your business,” I said. “I decide what I eat and when I eat it.”
“True enough. I’ll call back,” she said, her voice now flat and expressionless. A little change in mood can do amazing things to the tone of a person’s voice.
- The first sentence is active. It mentions the phone ringing first, which kicks off the whole story.
- It is a long run-on sentence that shows that the character is somewhat sophisticated and untraditional. Great character introduction.
- Leaving the reveal that he is cooking spaghetti for breakfast and how defensive his reaction is tickles me. I think it is wise to plan for the punchline of jokes by holding back information until the right time.
- Murakami does a great job of mixing thoughts with actions, on almost a 1 to 1 scale.
So what is the point of all of this?
I am glad you asked. True learning only happens when theory is put into practice. I am going to apply what I have learned and rewrite the beginning of my novel to try and improve the prose. I will be doing that on Thursday night and I will post the results on Friday. So, if anyone is interested, that means:
SNEAK PEAK AT MY NOVEL TOMORROW!
I sincerely hope that you enjoyed the fruits of my labors and hopefully found any of this interesting at all. It was a lot of work but this has gotten me so excited to write and apply what I learned that I want to quit my job and go write in the woods in an abandoned cabin. Shit, maybe I should check my meds.
Anyway, I hope you are alright. I can’t express how much it means to me that you would take some time out of your day to read my ramblings but trust me, it means the world to me. I have an announcement that I will be including with tomorrow’s post that I am excited but extremely nervous about so stay tuned for that as well. Peace.