Where do we learn to write?
1. Our largest lessons come from the act of writing itself. The sometimes difficult, sometimes unexpected, always dynamic lessons we learn while wrestling with our own words are always the most powerful.
2. The fact that you’re reading this blog (and that I’m writing it) means we’re also learning by studying the techniques and thoughts of other writers. The artistic community has so much to offer a growing writer—and aren’t we all growing?
3. We also learn from reading the works of others—both the mind-blowing ones and the mind-numbing ones. As lovers of stories, writers should perforce be avid readers, sucking in all kinds of lessons through sheer osmosis.
In support of Point #3, I’ve decided to add a new feature to Wordplay. In addition to my weekly written posts and podcasts, I’m adding a mid-week video series. These short (two minutes or less) videos will feature the lessons I’ve learned from my own reading, in the interest of helping us all learn from the work of other authors.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this new venture! Let me know what I’m doing right and what I can be doing better, and be sure to tell me about any topics you’d particularly like me to feature or books you’d like me to report on.
Enjoy the first episode, “How to Make Your Prose Sing,” and be sure to check in again next Wednesday for the second installment!
Words are the building blocks of our craft, and yet, ironically, the way words are put together is often one of the facets of storytelling we’re most likely to overlook in our mad dash to perfect plot and character, dialogue and POV. But when a book as luscious as Frances Mayes’s Bella Tuscany falls into your hands, you can’t help but be reminded of the importance of beautiful words singing together within the harmony of perfect sentences.
Mayes sketches her life in Italy with elegiac prose that makes the reader feel as if he’s stepped inside a poem. You just want to close your eyes and savor the bliss of such phrases as “The ripe peach colors of the house rhyme with yellow, rose, and apricot flowers.”
It also kind of makes you want to throw up your hands in defeat, since there’s no way your prose is ever going to trickle off your pen in such beautiful patterns. But if you take a closer look at Mayes’s writing, you can learn some of her tricks, the most important being her attention to detail. Her descriptions are never vague. She hits the reader with solid noun after vibrant verb, as is especially evident in her tantalizing descriptions of food, such fried tomatoes, and her use of color in phrases like “Blond light” and “Tanned to the color of an old baseball glove.”
Mayes’s other secret is that she never says more than she has to. Her splendid choice of words means she never has to linger overlong on descriptions. She selects the few details that will bring the scene to life for the reader, then lets his imagination take over.
Story by K.M. Weiland