for writers and readers….

READING LIKE A WRITER – how did they do that?

How did they do that?This is part of my new look Mondays. For about a year I have posted creative writing exercises at the start of the week (you can find a small selection in the archive in the left hand column and more if you use the search facility). What I want to look at in this new regular spot is how to learn from other writers. Sometimes we learn from their mistakes. A lot of the time we learn from what they did right. Part of becoming a better reader of your own writing involves looking at the writing of others with a critical eye and a reflective mind: stopping to question why a character was so believable, why the story has stayed with you so long and how is it that you can picture a place even though only a few lines were spent describing it.
There are only two ways to learn how to write and one is to write as much as you can and the other is to read as much as you can. That’s a non negotiable, copper bottomed truth. No ifs or buts. That’s the way to do it. Sharing your work with others and attending courses are part of the same process – they motivate you to write, shake you out of any rut you’ve fallen into and point you in new directions.
There’s no trick or super-fast nine day plan. It’s all about writing and reading.
In this spot every Monday (or as often as I can find the right material) I intend to focus on a review, article or blog post that looks at books from a writer’s perspective. Some I will write. Some I will search out and I hope some will find me — do let me know if you’ve written a review that would fit here.

Ta-Tum! I found the first contribution on Cath Humphries’ blog, the very appropriately named: DRIVEN TO READ – DRIVEN TO WRITE. Cath is a writer and teacher of creative writing in Gloucestershire and I’ve been following her blog for some time.
Today she wrote about that classic early 20th century ghost/horror story The Monkey’s Paw. (If you haven’t read the story you can find the text HERE). If you are thinking that now is the time to write a ghost story read her comments and look again at the way the author W.W.Jacobs builds the tension.
Cath says:

There are no coincidences in this story.  Every event builds on from the previous one, apparently naturally.

Read what else she has to say HERE.

I like the economical opening.

WITHOUT, the night was cold and wet, but in the small parlour of Laburnam Villa the blinds were drawn and the fire burned brightly. Father and son were at chess, the former, who possessed ideas about the game involving radical changes, putting his king into such sharp and unnecessary perils that it even provoked comment from the white-haired old lady knitting placidly by the fire.

  “Hark at the wind,” said Mr. White, who, having seen a fatal mistake after it was too late, was amiably desirous of preventing his son from seeing it.

  “I’m listening,” said the latter, grimly surveying the board as he stretched out his hand. “Check.”

  “I should hardly think that he’d come to-night,” said his father, with his hand poised over the board.

  “Mate,” replied the son.

  “That’s the worst of living so far out,” bawled Mr. White, with sudden and unlooked-for violence; “of all the beastly, slushy, out-of-the-way places to live in, this is the worst. Pathway’s a bog, and the road’s a torrent. I don’t know what people are thinking about. I suppose because only two houses on the road are let, they think it doesn’t matter.”

  “Never mind, dear,” said his wife soothingly; “perhaps you’ll win the next one.”

  Mr. White looked up sharply, just in time to intercept a knowing glance between mother and son. The words died away on his lips, and he hid a guilty grin in his thin grey beard.

In 241 words you get:
a strong sense of place (isolated middle class home)
family relationships (warm, close-knit – demonstrated by the gentle teasing, the father’s amused understanding of the glances exchanged between mother and son and the very fact that the son seems happy keeping his parents company )
ages of the characters ( good example of show don’t tell – white haired Mum so Dad is probably of the same age and the son must be an adult)
and the very clear idea that something is about to happen: ‘I should hardly think that he’d come tonight.’

And then there is the atmospheric weather. It’s cold, wet and windy outside and that makes this interior scene all the more warm and welcoming….soon the safe and the ordinary is going to be torn apart…

photo credit: hackett via photopin cc

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