We all have our favorite authors. They’re ones whose storytelling draws us in. Their characters’ voices speak inside our heads as old friends or familiar voices that send chills through our body. Some authors have a writing style so distinctive that when a passage is read out of context, we can identify them. A sampling includes: Barbara Parker (list), J.K. Rowlings (list), Ernest Hemingway (list), J.R.R. Tolkien (list), and Richard North Patterson (list). There are many authors who successfully craft writing, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction.
I find myself doing what I’ve heard many other writers do—read other authors for how they use writer’s craft. Reading for author craft while reading a book is a surreal experience. It’s like listening to music while reading a review of the performer. If not careful, it’s easy to succumb to the book’s seductive call to get lost in the writing. Yet when focus is maintained on the craft, there are treasures to unearth that can be used in one’s own writing. Every published author I’ve spoken to has said that they are constantly reading—to stay knowledgeable and—I suspect—to learn how others use writing skills.
For example, I want to learn how…
Hemingway uses spare language to create story tension and characters:
In the excerpt that follows from the beginning of The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway(1) establishes the setting, conflict, and the relationship between characters…
“Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.
“Santiago,” the boy said to him as they climbed the bank from where the skiff was hauled up. “I could go with you again. We’ve made some money.”
The old man had taught the boy to fish and the boy loved him.
“No,” the old man said. “You’re with a lucky boat. Stay with them.”
“But remember how you went eighty-seven days without fish and then we caught big ones every day for three weeks.”
“I remember,” the old man said. “I know you did not leave me because you doubted.”
“It was papa made me leave. I am a boy and I must obey him.”
“I know,” the old man said. “It is quite normal.”
“He hasn’t much faith.”
“No,” the old man said. “But we have. Haven’t we?”
“Yes,” the boy said. “Can I offer you a beer on the Terrace and then we’ll take the stuff home.”
“Why not?” the old man said. “Between fishermen.”
I’m amazed at what’s accomplished in one conversation. Hemingway understood that every word on the page must move the story forward. The purpose served must contribute to the whole story, even if it’s what appears to be a casual conversation.
Barbara Park uses language that sets both tone (humor) and character through dialog:
I can recognize Barbara Park’s main character in any passage, like as a parent, I know my children’s voices in a crowd of students in a loud hallway. She creates a signature character with a unique and irreverent voice: Junie B. Jones—“The B stands for Beatrice. Except I don’t like Beatrice. I just like B and that’s all.“ What follows is a conversation with her Kindergarten teacher on the first day of school(2):
“Her name was Mrs.— I can’t remember the rest of it. Mrs. said I looked cute.
“I know it,” I said. “That’s because I have on my new shoes.”
I held my foot way high in the air.
“See how shiny they are? Before I put them on, I licked them.
“And guess what else?” I said. “This is my bestest hat. Grampa Miller bought it for me. See the devil horns sticking out the sides?””
There is so much to love, laugh, and learn about Junie from this short exchange. Her lack of a filter sets the tone for many situations she gets involved in. There is much to be enjoyed by kids and adults from these stories.
How authors use craft is the stuff of this blog series. On the 3rd of each month, I will focus on an author. Exploring their use of writing skills to craft compelling stories and messages. Feel free to join in the exploration of their use of craft as I will provide an advance on what author will be explored.
March 3rd: J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
Feel free to read the same book, or refer to a different book by the same author. Uncovering Author’s Craft matters more than which book a person explores.
Other authors we’ll explore together are Aimee Carter (Pawn), Daniel Silva (The English Girl), and Paul Smith (Lead with a Story). Share in the comments what authors and their books that make you go hmmm.
Looking forward to growing in the craft together.
- Hemingway, Ernest (2002-07-25). The Old Man and the Sea (p. 4). Scribner. Kindle Edition.
- Park, Barbara (2012-05-22). Junie B.’s First Ever Ebook Collection!: Books 1-4 (Junie B. Jones) (Kindle Locations 67-71). Random House Children’s Books. Kindle Edition. From book 1 – Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus