Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Learning From the Masters


Taking writing courses is fun and often insightful, but there's nothing like learning from the masters in your genre. While I write cozies and would never write anything as gritty as Harlan Coben's novels, I was wowed by the opening line of his book, GONE FOR GOOD. "Three days before her death, my mother told me-- these weren't her last words, but they were pretty close--that my brother still alive." The story was up and running, and never paused until the last page.

K D:

I read that one also, and I remember the beginning! A true page-turner.

You know, at this stage of my writing career, I have a hard time with taking writing courses. I just feel I have to read and write and read and write. I give myself my own assignments, based on my favorite authors.

One time I was having difficulties with the beginning of a book, and I decided to take out one of my favorite thrillers, Ken Follett's EYE OF THE NEEDLE. I mapped out his first chapter, including the first murder. I listed each paragraph as description, dialog, or action. I listed the point of view: Follett has two points of view in the first chapter. I made a special note of the beginning of the murder. I went through it paragraph by paragraph and made a list.

And then I tried to duplicate the first chapter. Of course, I had my own cast of characters, and my own victim, but I tried to duplicate Follett's pacing. If he wrote two paragraphs of description, I wrote two paragraphs of description. If he had dialog, I had dialog. If he switched viewpoint characters, I switched characters. And so forth.

It worked pretty darn well. My first chapter moved along like greased lightening, and it was shockingly easy to write. But I couldn't go much further. After all, Follett was writing a different book, and when I tried to do the same with a second chapter, I bogged down completely. Still, the project taught me something about how to set a scene while pushing the action ahead. I have since learned that I was following the most intricately constructed of Follett's books, and I would have been totally doomed if I had tried to follow it too far.

Kind of an odd way to spend my time, perhaps. What do you think, Marilyn? Have you done something similar?


No, I've never tried that, but my feeling is use whatever gets your creative juices flowing. I get inspiration from reading books with great plotting and pacing, P. G. Wodehouse's novels do that for me. They're hilarious and without any trace of murder and mayhem, but the twists and turns of his plots urge me to think outside the box when I'm writing my mysteries.

K D:

I'm having a similar experience reading the MAISIE DOBBS mysteries by Jaqueline Winspear. I've read two of them, own the next two, and look forward to reading even more. The books are a wild mix of careful historical research, psychology, forensic science and even paranormal elements. When I read them, I always get inspired to reach out a little further with my own books.

I guess there are a lot of ways to learn from the masters!

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