Today my good friend and fellow writer, Joe Novara, is my guest blogger as I enjoy a visit from my daughter. A few weeks ago Joe mentioned how he’d been learning some new ways of expressing ideas from reading other writers. That led to the blog I posted last Wednesday: Read to Learn.
I asked Joe to expand on that idea and let me (and you) know some of the things he learned. So take it away, Joe.
When I did technical writing for a living, I would make a point of surfing the printed copy a company put out about itself. I was looking for definitions, key words, pacing, tone, corporate culture. It never hurt to have clients recognize themselves and feel at home in a brochure, training manual or video script.
Now that I’m retired and writing fiction, I get to choose my own voice which is much more fun…if less lucrative. Instead of reading annual reports and brochures and SOPs (standard operating procedures), I’m rumbling through my rag-bag of memories for scraps and bits to piece together into stories and books. But then, in the middle of long sections of story-flow I find my characters repeating the same body language over and over—he winked, she grimaced, he glared back. Or I find my plot line advancing, but going very fast. Way too fast.
As someone in my writing group once remarked, “Lean prose is good but this is anorexic.” So when I’m looking for a way to put some meat on the bones of the story, I’m back to surfing other people’s writing. This time I’m reading well-crafted fiction. These books don’t have to be great, classical literature or best-seller titles I’d find in a rack at an airport. But I know when an author is talking to me beyond the story. I’m learning from the writing itself.
* For ways to round out my story arc, I’ll make a point of reading Daniel Woodrell’s or Julia Spencer-Fleming’s backlist. In their books and others I find myself noticing references to location, and I tell myself to let the readers get somewhere and be somewhere specific, whether the reader actually knows the juncture of US-131 and M-43 or not.
* I look for the hundred different ways to describe facial reactions and gestures, then I borrow or rephrase them—he lifted his chin in assent.
* And, oh yeah, I’m reminded to include smells, sounds, tastes. All of the senses.
* Reading other writers’ works gives me ways to clearly and concisely, in a few sentences, describe a room as a character enters.
* I love to be startled by a powerful metaphor and be challenged to create my own, to look for historical anchor points, with references to cars and music and movies. To include the weather and how it impacts action.
* Basically, by reading other works, I’m reminded that a novel is not a series of flash fiction episodes.
I suppose I could buy Writing for Dummies or take a creative writing class, but I don’t go to school anymore and I find it much more enjoyable to learn as I read a well written book.
Thank you, Joe.
Joe Novara is a retired instructional specialist and college adjunct instructor. He lives in Michigan, and all of his books, including Middle Reader and YA novels, short story collections, plays, an adult novel and a memoir can be found as ebooks at: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/Joenovara.
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