Literature Masterclass: 3 Tips On Writing From Celebrated Authors
You might wonder how the authors we consider masters of literature today reached the pinnacle of their careers. Most, if not all, emphasise certain points when asked how they were able to produce bodies of work that readers are enthralled by and enjoy to this day, be it for leisure, research and the like. This is because the advice they often give out has helped not only them but the writers that came before.
Tatler explains three helpful tips that are often mentioned and valued by celebrated writers:
Write and rewrite
Writers must constantly search for the right words to tell a story. Even authors like English writer Nick Hornby says in The Polysyllabic Spree: "Anyone and everyone taking a writing class knows that the secret of good writing is to cut it back, pare it down, winnow, chop, hack, prune, and trim, remove every superfluous word, compress, compress, compress".
This might be why Filipino poet and literary critic Gemino Abad always has a dictionary nearby, he once mentioned in a poetry writing class. He is known to flesh out the meanings of words to fully understand their essence. This way, you get to write sentences that reveal the story's true character.
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As American literary critic Dorothy Parker puts it: "I would write a book or a short story, at least three times—once to understand it, the second time to improve the prose, and a third to compel it to say what it still must say".
Don't just read books, read good literature
American author Stephen King would agree if we look back at his interview with Charlie Rose in 1993. Rose asked who he would like to be compared to, and King merely responded by mentioning the writers whose style he admires and has "taken into [his] own mix and tried to make a part of [himself]". King explains further: "As a kid, if I read a lot of HP Lovecraft, [so] I'd write like Lovecraft".
This may be why contemporary works are often compared to previous works of illustrious authors.
Should you plan on writing well, you must bury yourself in good books as much as you can, for learning to write takes quite a long time.
"Tradition is a matter of much wider significance. It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour," as mentioned in poet and essayist TS Eliot's Tradition and the Individual Talent.
So, I say, read wherever you are, whenever you can, whether you're riding inside a moving vehicle, waiting in line, or getting ready for bed.
Show, don't tell
There are many ways to present a story, and telling is not one of them. This golden rule is often taught to aspiring writers for a good reason.
It would be much easier to write down a story outline, but the reading experience would not be as thrilling nor fulfilling. In Writing Short Stories, American essayist and novelist Flannery O'Connor says: "In good fiction, certain of the details will tend to accumulate meaning from the action of the story itself, and when this happens they become symbolic in the way they work".
The underlying message of a story should remain hidden from plain sight. The main themes of a story should not be in any way discussed in prose. You must encourage the reader to piece things together in order to create an experience that would leave a lasting impression.
American novelist Ernest Hemingway also talks about this technique—which is referred to as the Iceberg Theory, also widely known as the theory of omission—in his book Death in the Afternoon.