Jennifer Lockman wrote a helpful article at https://justpublishingadvice.com/10-lessons-to-learn-from-prominent-writers/ about specific things you can learn about writing from prominent writers. Here, I want to break down more generally how to make learning from other writers part of your routine.
Believe it or not, learning from the best authors can help you not only improve your writing skill, but also help you develop your own unique style. Here are some steps you can take to effectively learn from the best authors:
Read Widely: Start by reading a diverse range of genres, styles, and authors. This will expose you to different writing techniques, perspectives, and storytelling methods. I don’t suggest that you go too far outside your range of interests, though, because you’ll get bored quickly and stop doing it. But if you consider everything that you enjoy reading about, you’ll easily find a variety of good writing styles.
Analyze Their Work: As you read, pay close attention to how the authors craft their sentences, develop characters, build tension, create dialogue, and structure their narratives. Take notes on what stands out to you and why. Here are some specific things to pull apart and put back together in the area of sentence craft:
- Clarity: A well-crafted sentence is clear and easily understandable. It conveys its intended meaning without ambiguity or confusion.
- Conciseness: Crafting concise sentences involves expressing ideas using the fewest words possible while retaining clarity. Avoid unnecessary repetition or verbosity. (Or how about I just say “avoid repetition!”)
- Variety in Sentence Length: Mixing sentence lengths creates a rhythmic flow in your writing. Combining short, punchy sentences with longer, more complex ones can create a dynamic and engaging reading experience.
Syntax: Syntax refers to the arrangement of words and phrases within a sentence. Playing with sentence structure can emphasize certain ideas or create a particular mood. For example, placing important information at the end of a sentence can build suspense.
Word Choice: The choice of words is crucial for conveying precise meaning and evoking emotions. Use strong verbs and vivid adjectives to paint a clear picture in the reader’s mind. The Thesaurus is your friend, but be sure to use words that people actually know.
Parallelism: Parallelism involves using similar grammatical structures for items in a series or for elements that are being compared. It adds balance and rhythm to sentences. For example: “She enjoys hiking, swimming, and running.”
Punctuation: Proper punctuation helps convey the intended meaning of a sentence. Correct use of commas, semicolons, colons, dashes, and other punctuation marks influences the flow and interpretation of the text. I just Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style for the best grasp of this. But when analyzing author’s you’ll find that some earn the right to make up rules.
Rhythm and Flow: Crafting sentences with a natural rhythm and flow can make your writing more pleasant to read. Vary sentence lengths and use punctuation to control the pacing. Try reading sentences out loud for this.
Imagery and Figurative Language: Incorporating imagery, metaphors, similes, and other figurative language can enhance the sensory experience and make your writing more vivid and memorable. It can also be overdone.
Sentence Openers: Experiment with different ways to start your sentences. Begin with a descriptive phrase, a question, a surprising statement, or a dialogue tag to add variety and intrigue. How do your favorite authors do this? Is there a pattern to their work?
Transitions: Transitions connect ideas within and between sentences, guiding readers smoothly from one thought to the next. They help maintain the logical flow of your writing. They don’t need to be complicated.
Voice and Tone: The tone of your writing conveys your attitude toward the subject matter. Whether you aim for a formal, informal, conversational, or authoritative tone, your sentence craft should support this tone. Most authors are fairly consistent with their tone across their body of work, especially once they’ve been writing long enough to find their voice. If you’ve heard of them, they’ve probably found their voice.
Sentence Purpose: Each sentence should serve a clear purpose, whether it’s providing information, building tension, creating atmosphere, or driving the narrative forward. Get ruthless with your own sentences. Ask yourself when you’re reading other authors whether every sentence is necessary.
Sentence Ending: Consider the impact of how you end your sentences. Ending with a strong word or idea can leave a lasting impression on the reader.
Emulate and Practice: Choose an author or authors whose writing resonates with you and try to emulate their style in your own writing. This doesn’t mean copying their work, but rather experimenting with similar techniques to see how they fit with your voice.
Deconstruct Their Stories: Break down their stories or novels to understand the underlying elements: plot structure, character arcs, themes, etc. Consider why certain choices were made and how they contribute to the overall impact of the story.
Write Regularly: Practice is essential. Set aside dedicated time to write regularly. As you practice, incorporate the techniques you’ve learned from the authors you admire. This will help you internalize these techniques and make them a part of your own writing toolkit.
Seek Feedback: Share your work with trusted peers, writing groups, or mentors. Constructive feedback can provide valuable insights into areas where you can improve and grow as a writer.
Study Writing Craft: In addition to studying the works of authors, delve into books and resources on writing craft. There are many books and online courses available that break down various aspects of writing, from character development to dialogue and world-building.
Experiment with Different Styles: While it’s great to be inspired by specific authors, don’t limit yourself to just one style. Experiment with different styles, genres, and techniques to develop your own unique voice.
Read Critically: As you read, think critically about what works and what doesn’t in the authors’ writing. Consider what engages you as a reader and what might be improved.
Stay Curious: Keep exploring new authors and works. The literary world is vast, and there’s always something new to discover that can broaden your understanding of writing.
Reflect and Revise: After writing, take time to reflect on your work. What did you learn from applying the techniques of the authors you admire? How can you refine your writing further? Don’t hesitate to revise your work based on your insights.
Remember that learning from the best authors is a gradual process. It’s about absorbing what resonates with you and integrating it into your own unique style. Over time, you’ll develop your own voice that reflects both your influences and your individual creativity