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Old 04-05-2005, 02:16 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Location: Oregon
To Be A Better Writer...

... you should read excellent writing. Or, so I'm told.

So, if you could reccomend 5 books that showcase exceptional writing, plot development, characterization, etc., what would they be? I'm already picking out something by Hemingway, and going to re-read some of the Dickens that I read oh, so long ago. But, I'm looking for some direction in my search.

Already picked up Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand; interesting story, mediocre writing. Having John Galt blather on for fifty pages on Objectivisim was mind-numbing, particularly after he started repeating himself.

Thanks for your suggestions.

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Old 04-05-2005, 03:22 AM   #2 (permalink)
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To be honest, right now and for the last few years, I haven't read any books that weren't written by Stephen King.. So all I can really suggest is him, but he's sort of a given.
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Old 04-05-2005, 07:44 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Robert Jordan.....Wheel of Time series
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Old 04-05-2005, 08:20 AM   #4 (permalink)
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I'd have to agree strong with Tecoyah on Robert Jordan. William Faulkner, and especially The Bear would be another good choice.
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Old 04-06-2005, 10:15 AM   #5 (permalink)
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J.D Salinger's prose, while self concious(purposely) is magnificent. I recommend Franny and Zooey.

Jack Kerouac had a scattered prose style all to himself. On the Road.

George Orwell's travel writing and fiction is amazing. Homage to Catalonia or Down and Out in Paris and London.

I can't think of a fourth of fifth right now, but there's a few to get the motor running.

And oh man is Ayn Rand's writing bad. Still, I used to worship her. Only because she worshipped young men in turn.
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Old 04-06-2005, 10:24 AM   #6 (permalink)
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I'd agree with Techoyah, but I'd say stick to the first 5 books in the series by Robert Jordan, they've really dragged the last few years and he's done almost no plot or character development at all!
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Old 04-06-2005, 10:59 AM   #7 (permalink)
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To be a better writer, shouldn't you just write about what you know or what you love. Sure you could read Faulkner, or DH Lawrence or some other writers, but they've written books in their writing style, to be the best writer you have to find your own writing style not copy someone elses.
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Old 04-06-2005, 02:59 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Good writing is clear. Good writing is conversational. Good writing tells a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It's surprising how many published authors forget about one or all of those concepts.

There's a lot of writing out there that is just plain horribly bad. I blame English teachers. Throughout grade school and college, I had only one English teacher that wanted clear, conversational writing. All the others wanted me to obfuscate each and every sentence in such a way as to make its meaning as cloudy as first-press olive oil, embellishing the central message until all meaning was forsaken in favor of superlatives. The preceeding sentence is a good example of the kind of bad writing they encouraged A better version of that sentence would be: All the others wanted me to throw in so many important-sounding words that the meaning was lost.


Write like you talk, and tell a compelling story with a clear beginning, middle, and end, and you'll be fine.
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Old 04-08-2005, 02:11 AM   #9 (permalink)
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shakran - Well, that's part of the problem. Writing the way I speak would be confusing, I think. When I write my expressions become more linear, less paranthetical than when I try to express some concept verbally. Still, that was basically the advice I was given in grade school and it is sound.

Maleficent - True, I do need to find my own style, and I think that I am progressing towards that. However, the manner in which I write is strongly influenced by what I have read. And my reading has been limited to mostly fantasy and sci-fi. While there is certainly great writing in those genres, it is not readily recognized. Other genres are. And, while I would like to write some fantasy or sci-fi, I am hoping that by reading Hemingway and Salinger I will discover means of expression that I haven't even conceived of before.

For example, my dialog stinks. One of the tricks I have heard is that some famous author (whose name escapes me) spent hours in cafes and diners and listen to how people speak. I can't quite afford the time to do that yet. I will have the opportunity to do some of that next week, however. I find solitude particularly restorative. My wife arrainged for me to spend the day at a bed and breakfast on the coast for a day to help recharge my batteries. That is going to be so nice, I can't tell you. Hopefully, I will write some.

Thanks for your replies, folks. Keep 'em comin'.

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Old 04-09-2005, 03:32 AM   #10 (permalink)
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I think you're on the right track, find an author you really love and read everything they wrote. Hemingway has impeccable prose but please do not fashion yourself as the next Hemingway, it's tired, it was tired 50 years ago. If you can read another language it will improve immensely your understanding of English and your ability to write not just properly but with panache. In fact two of the most exemplary writers of modern English language prose were non-native speakers: Conrad and Nabokov, Polish and Russian respectively.

Nabokov (Lolita, Pale Fire, Bend Sinister) makes his words sing and his grammar is perfect. "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta."

Other authors I recommend learning from in terms of prose are: Franz Kafka (the Trial, Metamorphosis)-get the newest translations available, Tom Wolfe (The Right Stuff, Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test), David Foster Wallace (Infinite Jest, A Supposedly Fun thing I'll never do again), Thomas Pynchon (V, Crying of Lot 49, Gravity's Rainbow), J.M. Coetzee (Disgrace, Waiting for the Barbarians, Foe).

Some authors who I love but whose prose isn't quite up to snuff: Dostoevsky, Orwell, Philip K. Dick, Vonnegut, also... Robbins.

Dickens is wonderful, but idiosyncratic. Dickens is meant to be read aloud in a serial fashion (one chapter per week) so he includes a lot of repetitive markers to help people remember characters. Reading him straight through often just feels repetitious.

Last edited by Locobot; 04-09-2005 at 03:48 AM..
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