John "The Gneech" Robey (the_gneech) wrote,
John "The Gneech" Robey

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The Secret Method of Mastering the Art of Writing Damn Good Prose

There's an old method of teaching the writing of good prose that works wonders and it will help you find a distinctive voice. Doing the following exercise a half-hour to an hour a day has made some of the worst prose-writing students in my classes into some of the best prose-writing students in a few months -- or less. Often the improvement is very rapid and the degree of improvement is astonishing.

Here is what you do: Every day when you sit down to work, you take a good prose writer's work and you copy it. That's right, you type it out, word for word. Do two or three pages: You will not only get a feeling for how good stylists use words, you will feel the timing and the rhythm of their prose and the snap, crackle, pop of their dialogue.

Next, write a page or so in imitation of what you've just typed. That's right. If, say, you've just typed an outdoor scene with a lot of action, you write an outdoor scene with a lot of action, trying your best to write it in the style of the piece of writing you've just copied.

After a while you will find that you can imitate this style at will; now try another author and another, until you can imitate various styles and voices any time you like. You will then discover, wow, you have the ability to change your style and tone and voice effortlessly. And soon you will find your own, distinctive voice.
--James N. Frey, How to Write a DAMN Good Mystery

In case you're wondering, I checked it out of the library and I'm gleaning what good bits out of it I can before taking it back. I can see the technique here being useful ... it's basically the same thing artists do when they copy the old masters. However, it starts out with the assumption that the person using the technique (A) will be analytical, and (B) knows their way around the language well enough to tell what's going on. I've encountered some would-be writers who didn't know their subject from their indefinite pronoun, and weren't willing to learn, either. I don't know how much these people would get from this artistic osmosis, but they might at least have some fun with it.

I wouldn't mind trying this technique with P.G. Wodehouse or Rex Stout; I did Douglas Adams a long time ago. (Of course, Adams was channeling Wodehouse anyway, so I guess by doing him, I've kinda done Wodehouse already, haven't I?)

-The Gneech
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