Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Your Favorite Author

By Cyrus Keith
If you are reading this, you want to become a better writer. To do this, you can take class after class and still not see what happens when the rubber meets the road. Your grammar is perfect, every "I" is dotted, every "T" crossed. It's just not there, and you don't see why it isn't.   That's where your favorite author comes in.
You have a favorite author. You may not know why they are, but they are. You can't stop reading their work. You're hooked on them. Their characters invade your dreams. Their stories leave you with your chest heaving. Rowling, Meyers, Larsson, Collins: You just can't get enough. I just have one question about that:
Next time you read one of their books, stop reading it, and see it. Take it apart like a watch and line up every wheel, cog and spring so you can see how it works. Make a list of the major plot elements you see. Outline the major points of the story. List all the characters. Who is the protagonist? The antagonist? What are the conflicts? Every good story has more than one. Dig for it if you have to. Believe me, it's there.
Look for repeated words, over-the-top prose, excessive adverbs. Do it one better: download a free copy of the Turkey City Lexicon and read it. Compare your story to the Lexicon. Find the Squids in the Mouth, the Brenda Starr Dialogue, Rabbits Called Smeerps, and all those other boo-boos that tell you they may be a best-selling author, but they are, after all, human.
Then look and see what stands out to you as something that works exceptionally well. Anything that stands out. Use the part of your mind that feels words and phrases slide through it. You know those guys on TV that test wine? They swirl it in the glass and watch how it sticks to the sides. They smell its aroma, and then swish it around in their mouth. They take air through it and hold it before swallowing to feel the flavor and how it goes down. Do that with your favorite story, and you'll appreciate it even more.
Now that you know what makes that story work, you can take some of those same techniques, and plug them into your own writing.
Understanding how something works, as well as how it could be made even better, makes you a better writer. And don't feel bad about critiquing a pro. They've already been through it, and suffered through form rejections, and editors, and galley proofs. Besides, they won't even know you're dissecting them like frogs. So it's your own little secret, anyway.
I guarantee, if you break down three different stories from different authors, you'll find your own work taking on a new life, a new energy, and your stories will get the kind of attention they deserve, whether you write strictly for fun, or as a catharsis, or are practicing for publication.
Go and be awesome for someone today.


Marva Dasef said...

Well said, Cyrus.

I find that I'm watching movies these days and thinking about the way plot twists, scenes, dialogue are handled. I'm a more critical watcher than I was a few years ago.

Same with books, but I also am interested in descriptions that would be handled visually in a movie. Does it work as well in either media?

Cyrus Keith said...

I would think so. I wrote Becoming NADIA as a movie in my mind. I tried to use the same tools I picked up from movies as well as books when I put the plot elements together.