Reading Like a Writer

Francine Prose’s new book is proving to be absolutely wonderful. I want to use this whole book, write about her ideas, use her teaching methods in class come January, and use writers I love to inspire my own writing, exactly the way she talks about. And that’s just chapter one…

Prose is a fan of close, slow, careful reading and I have to say that I am not usually that kind of a reader. As I confessed in book group last time, I’m a bit of a plot whore. I like plots because generally they put protagonists in dire situations and it’s fun to see what a character is made of, how they will react to, and maybe overcome, their bad luck. Last time, we read Confederacy of Dunces. I had tried to read that book once before, and didn’t finish it. It’s funny and O’Toole uses language in gorgeous and interesting ways, but there’s really no plot or conflict.

I’ve read Prose and she knows plot. Blue Angel is fabulous. So I don’t think she’s saying “only the words matter, not the structure.” But that’s where she starts. With words. The way writers use and choose words is huge and interesting, at least to other writers. That’s at least one aspect of the real work of writing, isn’t it? Finding just the right words.

Then she moves on to sentences. I loved this: “For any writer, the ability to look at a sentence and see what’s superfluous, what can be altered, revised, expanded, and especially, cut, is essential. It’s satisfying to see that sentence shrink, snap into place, and ultimately emerge in a more polished form, clear, economical, sharp.”

That’s the plan for today. I’ll just be here in my writing room, snapping some sentences into place.

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