Good writing doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We all know the names of writers who no one will argue have achieved success. These are the writers many people will agree are good writers and we call what they write good novels.
The more we read these ‘good’ writers, the more we are exposed to what makes them good; the more we can pick out the ingredients that make us like what we read.
And the more we can add those ingredients to our own writing, won’t it make our writing recipe better?
When we read into the night to get to the end of a story it was good writing that carried us there. It took plotting, solid narrative and empathetic characters to set the hook from the beginning and keep our interest all the way to the end.
Reading the good writing is how we witness the craft unfold. It’s how we make mental lists of what works in a good novel.
John Irving, the author of Cider House Rules, The World According to Garp, and A Prayer for Owen Meany said in a Paris Review Interview:
“I’m old-fashioned. I believe in plot, of all things; in narrative, all the time; in storytelling; in character…I don’t enjoy novels that are boring exercises in show-off writing with no narrative, no characters, no information—novels that are just an intellectually discursive text with lots of style.”
Good writing cues us to what would make our writing better. It’s hard not to notice a turn of phrase or an unexpected twist in a plot or an endearing character that we are moved by and think, I want to write a character like that.
The Harry Potter series produced more than one endearing character and captured a generation of young people, got them reading books over seven hundred pages long and sold over five million copies.
“The most important thing is to read as much as you can, like I did. It will give you an understanding of what makes good writing and it will enlarge your vocabulary.” – J. K. Rowling
Vocabulary is another asset we get from good writing. It’s fun to have to look up at least one or two words in a novel that either we have never seen before or that we have never used in a particular context.
The only downside of reading good novels is it can be discouraging. It can make writing anything as good seem an impossible task and yet some great writers used the writers that came before them as teachers in interesting ways.
Hunter S. Thompson typed out every page of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby so he could “feel” what it was like to write a masterpiece. Jack London copied the work of Rudyard Kipling in longhand to learn the rhythm of Kipling’s prose. Benjamin Franklin copied the work of his newspaper competitors so he could write better than they did.
Can we absorb good writing? Why not?
Charles Kuralt was a TV news anchor for many years. During his career he won three Peabody awards and ten Emmy awards for journalism. It’s fair to say he read and wrote a great deal and had this to say:
“I believe that writing is derivative. I think good writing comes from good reading.” – Charles Kuralt
The more we read good writers the more we learn good writing. We may not want to copy the good writers exactly, but we can learn to be as good as they are in all the ways that will make us good; ways that will make us good writers for those that will read us someday.
Keep reading and writing,
Christina for PenPaperWrite
If you are interested in learning the 60 Scenes® Writing Method so you can take your idea and turn it into a novel or screenplay the next 1-Day Workshop is May 25th in Marietta, GA. Register here www.60scenes.com
Class size is limited to 15 and we fill up early. You will learn how to storyboard, the three-act dramatic structure, working with scenes to break down a plot and much more. Class includes a 40 page workbook and all the materials you need to start using the 60 Scenes® Method. www.60scenes.com