How (Not) to Write Like a Master

Photo credit: Calamity Meg on Flickr
All writers strive to one day reach the literary level of the greats: Hemingway, Rowling, King, Tolkien, regardless of who your writing role model is, we all hope to be considered great writers.

Becoming a great writer, however, takes years of dedication, hard work, writing and writing. So for those of us interested in fast tracking our way to writerly stardom, here are a few shortcuts. As long as you don’t skip any, you’ll be well on your way to millions:

How to Write as Well as Hemingway, King or Rowling* 

Beginnings: 

  1. Irrelevant prologues. Prologues are the time to trick your readers into believing that they’re going to be reading about something entirely different from your actual WIP. Drone on about a character mentioned once on page 146, or throw in a high-speed car chase to your medieval fantasy novel for fun. It’s not like anyone actually reads them, anyway. 

  2. Long, arduous descriptions. Describe everything with meticulous detail. At least a page each should be dedicated to the color of the sky, the kind of trees outside, the animals going about their business and the exact physical description of every character (important and not), down to the shape of their eyebrows. 

  3. Itemization of your protagonist’s every move. Brushing teeth, tweezing eyebrows, shaving, preparing breakfast, choosing clothes—everything is relevant. After all, how are readers supposed to believe your characters are real if they don’t know their everyday routine? 

Middles: 

  1. Steal clich├ęs. The calm before the storm. Cute as a button. Tongue-in-cheek. Wakeup call. These phrases are popular because they are the essence of writing genius. Use as many as you can possibly squeeze into your writing, in fact go here and here to find more and use them all. 

  2. Uniform sentences. This one is a bit tricky, but essential nonetheless: every sentence must have the same amount of words. There are absolutely positively no exceptions to this rule, and the longer they are the better the sentence. Trust me on this because it’s the only way to truly hone the essence of sentence writing skills. 

  3. Impressive vocabulary. As a writer, it’s your duty to show the world the depths of your carefully honed vocabulary. Your characters don’t think—they surmise; nor do they speak—they pontificate. Use that hard-earned vocabulary so your readers may be awed at your superior intellect. 

Endings: 

  1. Monologuing villains. If your villain doesn’t have a five-page monologue in which he explicates the full details of his diabolical plot, you’re not doing it right. 

  2. Kill everyone. It’s how Shakespeare ended everything, and he’s a literary genius, so... 

  3. Inception. Was the whole novel a dream or reality? If you did your job correctly, your readers will never know. 

  4. The end...or is it? Don’t tie off loose ends—you’re just destroying future possibilities for sequels and series continuations. The more questions your readers have at the end of your book, the more likely they are to continue the series to find answers. 

With these simple steps, you’ll have your name permanently etched in the literary hall of fame in no time. You’re welcome.

*There are no shortcuts to becoming a great writer. This is a sarcastic post and none of these points are meant to be taken seriously. In fact, it’d probably be best if you avoided every one of those so-called shortcuts.

What so-called shortcuts do you have for writing like the masters?

13 comments:

Al Diaz said...

I am happy. This time I didn't find any point I'm actually doing. Go me!

Ava Jae said...

Yay you! ^_^

Daniel Swensen said...

The only one I quarrel with a bit is the "vocabulary" point. We have such a beautiful, diverse, descriptive language, and yet as writer's we're frequently admonished not to use most of it. But I may be unusual in that regard -- I read a book recently where the author sent me to the dictionary about once a page, and I actually really loved it.

I also don't mind loose ends if they're done well and with the intent of raising questions. If they're left hanging because the author doesn't want to deal with them, then yeah, that's crap.

Ava Jae said...

I actually agree with you. I don't mind utilizing a diverse vocabulary when appropriate (the voice of the novel definitely plays a huge role in this point), but when it's overdone, the writing can very quickly go from beautiful to pompous. Like most things, when done well it works, but it needs to be done well, which also relates to the loose ends point. Like you said, when done well it can be fantastic. When there are way too many loose ends or it's handled in a sloppy manner, well...

Lisa Shambrook said...

Ha ha, I have a quadrilogy I haven't finished yet because of 2.long, arduous description and 3. itemisation of protagonist's every move... I seem to recall a three page (if not more) scene of an ant's every move around the protagonist... I keep saying I'll finish it, but I just haven't time!

Lisa Shambrook said...

I also enjoy new words, and long words, but only when the writer actually understands them! I've read wonderful words before but used in the wrong places, that puts me off a book quickly! :/

Ava Jae said...

There's definitely a right and wrong way to go about it, and when it's wrong, it looks horrendously wrong.

Ava Jae said...

Ah, yes. I can understand how long descriptions and itemizations would make it difficult to complete. It's certainly a lot of extra words that will likely be cut during revision...

Lisa Shambrook said...

Ha ha, I meant I was reading one already published! Not mine...a famous author's fantasy quad but an arduous read! I keep picking up his book to finish reading, but just can't bring myself to spend the time with it!

Ava Jae said...

Ahhhh, I understand. Well, in that case, I definitely see why it'd be difficult to finish reading. Come to think of it, I probably wouldn't even try. But that's just me. :)

Robin Red said...

I have a fear and loathing of vague descriptions. I need readers to know that the POV character is in the east end of the room, facing the west wall, where there is a window, etc. It always bothers me when I read something, I visualize a setting, and THEN the author details a direction a character moves in that contradicts my mental image. Worse is when an author waits too long to describe a character's features. If 25 pages after a character's introduction he/she has been proclaimed to have green eyes when I've already pictured brown, I throw the book down and rage for ten minutes.


But details that are too long... Bore!

Ava Jae said...

Hmm. That's interesting, because I actually don't mind vague descriptions. I find that being too specific can become boring and unnecessary very quickly--readers will develop and image in their mind without your specific detailing. It's also tricky because you don't necessarily want to describe all of the characters physical features right at once at the beginning--you then run the risk of your description sounding like a list, rather than a gradual building of the image.


Something to think about. :)

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