Six Ways to Avoid Becoming a Literary Mimic

JR ParsonsGuest Blogger: JR Parsons

Call me Katniss. Some seconds ago–it’s not important how many–feeling lonely and cold in my bed, and finding not the warmth of my sister beside me but only the rough canvas mattress cover, I thought about the bad dreams that must have disturbed her sleep and caused her to search in the dark for the comfort of our mother. It was a way, I knew, of warding off fear of the coming reaping.

Sounds familiar, right? But is it Suzanne Collins or Herman Melville? Neither–unless Collins fell prey to the literary mimicry trap or Melville wrote dystopian YA fiction. Thankfully neither did. And the world reaped Moby Dick and The Hunger Games.

I sometimes work with writers who, in hopes of discovering their own voice, listen to well-intentioned advice. Read the classics, the bestsellers, the award winners. Rewrite your scenes in the manner of Hemingway, Hunter Thompson, Amy Tan or Angelou. Study this master traditionalist or that stylish modernist.

That advice isn’t necessarily wrong, but often it’s incomplete.

Why should writers read Hemingway? For his disdain of adjectives or for his ability to strip a sentence bare yet layer emotion and conflict. Angelou, for her love of metaphors? Or for the way she weaves elements of blues music—off-beats, repetition, call and response—to give her prose depth and rhythm.

Absent this direction, many new and aspiring writers get it wrong. Jessica inserts a metaphor into every scene of her historical romance. Ray kills any adjective lurking in his mano o mano adventure novel. Kerry takes it further, adopting unnamed-superstar author’s complete writing style.

The result: literary mimicry.

Jessica’s metaphors remind one of Angelou’s, but don’t sing. Ray’s sentences are straight-forward, but don’t go anywhere. And Kerry, unfortunately, becomes the writer’s version of a bad impressionist at open mike night.

So how do we, as writers, learn from authors we admire? Six Dos and Don’ts will help you avoid literary mimicry.

  1. DON’T separate words from context. Great writers choose the right words. Words must fit a story’s setting, illuminate a character’s personality, and carry and reinforce thematic elements. Imagine, if instead of writing “It is a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done…,” Victor Hugo had penned, “It is a good thing I do because I have never done much…”
  2. DON’T separate dialogue from character. We’ve all run across brilliant dialogue and thought, “Damn, I wish I’d written that.” No harm done. Unless, you figure brilliant dialogue stands alone. It doesn’t. Dialogue must fit a character like a bespoke suit. Consider how the main characters introduce themselves in two well-known books-turned-movies: Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale: The name is Bond, James Bond. And John Ball’s In the Heat of the Night: They call me Mr. Tibbs. Each statement perfectly fits the character; switched, they hang like cheap suits.
  3. DON’T confuse plot devices with plot. Some best-selling authors weave complex plots that rival Turkish carpets. Channeling these master plotters, new writers throw in every possible twist and turn—and end up with their story in a jumble. Instead, concentrate on how your favorite author handles conflict, rising-falling action, crisis-climax, and resolution. These form the thread that holds plots together.
  4. DO read with your ears. Our eyes easily detect structure: short sentences, long paragraphs, an abundance of speech tags, an absence of quotation marks. Our eyes also process the words so our minds can grasp the story. But our ears allow us to feel the story. We hear not see the cadences—how words and sentences sound, how dialogue and narrative resonate and unfold—that make fiction seem real.
  5. DO identify choices the author makes. How does your favorite author handle character growth? Is it through dialogue, narrative, internal monologue? How does she build tension? Through foreshadowing, interrupted action, an unreliable narrator? Why did he choose a constricted versus a sprawling timeline? How does the author achieve story movement through dialogue and emotional impact through narrative?
  6. DO realize that you are not Toni Morrison, John Cheever, Danielle Steel, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Judy Blume, Jhumpa Lahiri or any other writer you can name–young, old or dead. But you can learn from them. Just understand that what you can learn is the craft of writing. The art comes from inside you.
Have you become a better writer by studying classic writers? What have you found the advantages and pitfalls to be?

***

Jim Parsons is a fiction writer and business and editorial consultant who recently started a new company called 9 Crossings.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!

103 Comments

  1. […] Six Ways to Avoid Becoming a Literary Mimic […]



  2. The List List #26 | BOOK RIOT on September 28, 2012 at 9:19 AM

    […] at Rachelle Gardner’s Blog, Six Ways to Avoid Becoming a Literary Mimic […]



  3. […] Parsons shares how NOT to become a literary mimic yet still learn from the great authors. And here are some writing tips from great […]



  4. Kristin Laughtin on September 21, 2012 at 8:26 PM

    I love this post! Mimicry is a really easy trap, especially for newer writers. Often, it comes down to lack of deep analysis. You like some sort of effect an author employs and try to incorporate it into your work, and it reads like a cheap copy because you haven’t analyzed it to figure out WHAT the author is doing and HOW they employ that device. Thus, you’re unable to adapt said device to fit seamlessly into your own work. Context is important. You can’t just cut and paste technique and style and expect it to work.

    Once you analyze what a particular author is doing and why that works, you’ll have a better understanding of their techniques, which will allow you to adopt and apply them in a way fitting your context. They’ll become yours and your work will sound much more organic and natural.



    • Jim Parsons on September 21, 2012 at 9:06 PM

      Exactly…look behind the curtain. Thanks for your comments, and thanks for thinking me capable of metaphysical chicanery:-)



  5. H,G, Ferguson on September 21, 2012 at 4:12 PM

    Learning from writers we admire without plummeting into the abyss of mimicry or imitation (sometimes to the point of verbal cloning) is tough. One of my mentors, HP Lovecraft, is not someone to imitate in terms of style, since his style was laced with the 18th Century flavor and verbal convolutions that he adored. What a writer can LEARN from Lovecraft is the use of SUBTLETY, of SUGGESTION, of the primary importance of MOOD and ATMOSPHERE whether you write speculative, horror or historical romance. If your heroine is in a creepy place or a dire situation, it’s the mood and atmosphere that will bring the depiction to life and hold fast your readers with serrated hooks. Learning what is important to your favorite writers and then assimilating — not duplicating, for you are not them — this is the key. Don’t try to replicate the sparkling imagery of Robert McCammon or the gallows wit of Stephen King. But do absorb the importance they put on these things — your writing will be enriched if you do, and in doing so you will avoid the abyssal plummet.



    • Jim Parsons on September 21, 2012 at 6:53 PM

      Good points. Thanks for reading the post and sharing your thoughts, H.G.



  6. I Have A Voice … Who Knew? « Happy Holly Project on September 21, 2012 at 4:08 PM

    […] … and the whole entry. It came from an article / blog entry by Guest Blogger JR Parsons in the Rachelle Gardner blog.  Written about writing. About a persons […]



  7. vrabinec on September 21, 2012 at 2:49 PM

    I’d feel creepy, mimicking someone else’s style. I dunno, maybe years from now when I’m a frustrated Saliere calling myself the patron saint of mediocrity or something, but at this point, I’m way too egotistical. We’ll see, I guess.



    • Jim Parsons on September 21, 2012 at 3:23 PM

      Vrabinec,

      Thanks for commenting. I think the modern day equivalent is writers I work with or read who make the mistake of jumping on the Suzanne Collins, Jo Nesbo, James Patterson, JK Rowlings wagon and try to write to whatever tune is hot at the moment. Nothing wrong with entering field, but as one of the posters above mentioned: the story’s the thing. What’s often missing is originality of story and voice–two sides of the same mimic.

      Jim

      P.S. The funny thing is that some are good, strong writers…or would be if they stayed true to themselves.



  8. Neil Larkins on September 21, 2012 at 1:55 PM

    I once read the classics but was afraid of becoming a literary mimic so didn’t write. Then I thought of being a literary critic so read their work. Then was afraid I would become a literary critic mimic and started reading literary critics who only wrote on the classics. Afraid I’d become a literay classic critic mimic I got depressed, then got happy. So now I’m bipolar about it all as a literary manic hysteric classic critic mimic. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist. OK, yes I could but didn’t want to.)



  9. Neil Larkins on September 21, 2012 at 1:55 PM

    I once read the classics but was afraid of becoming a literary mimic so didn’t write. Then I thought of being a literary critic so read their work. Then was afraid I would become a literary critic mimic and started reading literary critics who only wrote on the classics. Afraid I’d become a literay classic critic mimic I got depressed, then got happy. So now I’m bipolar about it all as a literary manic hysteric classic critic mimic. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist. OK, yes I could but didn’t want to.)



    • Jim Parsons on September 21, 2012 at 2:22 PM

      Hi Neil,

      I guess not resisting would make you a literary manic hysteric classic compulsive critic mimc, then?

      Jim



      • Neil Larkins on September 21, 2012 at 3:00 PM

        I had that comin’. Great post, by the way. I was once too embarrassed to admit I didn’t read much and still don’t. Glad to find out that many other authors are like me…though not sure if it’s a good thing.



  10. Jill on September 21, 2012 at 1:00 PM

    This is just a part of the maturing process, I think–at first mimicking mentors, and then growing apart from them.

    And to people who won’t read classics or study rhetoric because the story is the ultimate thing: I’ve known painters who have the same philosophy, who think it’s all about creating a picture (I work in an art gallery). These painters will never be great artists, period. But they probably don’t care to be, either. There is something to defining yourself at the outset.



  11. Deb Atwood on September 21, 2012 at 12:47 PM

    My favorite, favorite book was Age of Innocence. And my favorite line something like: “It is not the custom in New York drawing rooms for a woman to get up…”

    I loved how Wharton took me by the hand like some gifted anthropologist and guided me through late Victorian society. When I wrote my first novel (currently in drawer phase), I thought that approach would work perfectly to convey post-war Korea. But all I heard from other writers was, “Too authorial!” Sigh.



    • Jim Parsons on September 21, 2012 at 2:20 PM

      Hi Deb,

      Getting the balance right is always a challenge. One way is to have a more authoritarian (in the author not dictator sense) supporting character to convey some of that information without breaking characterization and narrative pace. Write on!

      Jim



  12. Patrick on September 21, 2012 at 12:35 PM

    I never consciously studied great writers to emulate their style, I just read them voraciously all my life. Now when I write I can feel them leaking out of me.



  13. Heather on September 21, 2012 at 12:23 PM

    I recently read Bleak House and Persuasion, classics of literature. The most annoying part of reading them, was the way both took a full chapter at the beginning to set up a scene where nothing happened. I think it’s wise to read the classics, but not always to follow them.



    • Jim Parsons on September 21, 2012 at 2:16 PM

      I agree. A different time, a different audience, but every “classic” does not stand the test of time or changing readers’ tastes. Thanks adding to the discussion.

      Jim



  14. W. V. Kahler on September 21, 2012 at 11:47 AM

    Perhaps the above advice, (in plural), is why I’ve not been able to write/publish the (latest) “great American novel”! I have never read any of the afore mentioned books or authors.

    My early reading (started before there was a TV in the house), has been Poe; Shakespeare; Gontran de Poncins; Dodgson; The Brothers, Grimm… and influenced by Fractured Fairy Tales.

    (Yes, I am (nearly) older than dirt!)

    “Do read with your ears” is excellent advice. It let’s your brain hear what your fingers have written. For many years I have read aloud to my Nieces and Nephew (and to any other child I could rope and hog-tie. It gives you an insight into the sound, pace and sentence length.

    One should also remember that what you see in your mind, is not being seen by your reader! Yes, you know what you meant, when you scribbled, “he fell off the cliff, into the river”, but really – what do you “see” right now, as you read that? Tall or short fall? Mild or raging river? In the mountains or in the jungle? Winter or Summer? Thus the adage, “show me don’t just tell me!”

    But, I must say, and willingly, that I have just discovered a great blog; not only for the article, but the intelligence of the comments! To quote three famous individuals (in historical order): “I will return; I shall return; I’ll be back.

    The RymRytr
    rym (rhyme) rytr (writer)



    • Jim Parsons on September 21, 2012 at 2:14 PM

      Good comments, W.V. I think you’re on the mark with your comments about visualization and possible disconnects between writer and reader. Thanks for commenting.

      Jim



  15. Cherry Odelberg on September 21, 2012 at 11:14 AM

    I don’t want to answer the questions. I just want to remember this all day; “Just understand that what you can learn is the craft of writing. The art comes from inside you.”



  16. Julie Daines on September 21, 2012 at 11:09 AM

    Absolutely superb! Thank you for this thoughtful and insightful post.



    • Jim Parsons on September 21, 2012 at 11:21 AM

      Thanks, Julie. Glad you found something worth taking away. Best wishes for your writing.

      Jim



  17. Michelle on September 21, 2012 at 10:59 AM

    “Just understand that what you can learn is the craft of writing” is dead on. Thank you for your post, for it shares truth. I do read to learn, but I also know that what I read, is not me.



    • Jim Parsons on September 21, 2012 at 2:24 PM

      Glad you enjoyed the post. I appreciate Rachelle giving me the chance to submit to her excellent blog. Good luck with your writing.

      Jim



  18. Abigail Cossette on September 21, 2012 at 9:58 AM

    Great post. I spent a lot of time imitating great writers a couple years ago as an excercise in order to learn about word choice, flow, characters and such. Practicing such opposits as Hemingway and Dickens gave me a deep appreciation for a well chosen word!



    • Jim Parsons on September 21, 2012 at 2:27 PM

      Hi Abigail,

      It’s funny looking back, isn’t it? Sometimes you wonder what you possible can take away from an author’s work…sometimes it’s hard to find anything. And sometimes you take away more than you realize at that moment. Thanks for reading my post and commenting.

      Jim



  19. Stephen H. King on September 21, 2012 at 9:13 AM

    #6: not precisely true. I AM Stephen King. No, really. 🙂

    Have I become a better writer by studying classic authors? Well, sure. Still working through a re-read of Twain’s Roughing It, in fact, and every time I get into one of the classics I come away with a better appreciation of something to do with writing. But that’s how you learn this craft. There are only two things you can do to become a better writer: read (the assumption being that you’re reading something well-written) and write.



    • Stephen H. King on September 21, 2012 at 9:14 AM

      Oh, yeah, forgot:

      – TOSK (The Other Stephen King)



    • P. J. Casselman on September 21, 2012 at 12:53 PM

      Well you can go listen to writing coaches at seminars, but if you buy their book, you get the seminar in one chapter.



      • Stephen H. King on September 21, 2012 at 1:12 PM

        Indeed. Having now been to three conventions and attended every seminar I could on writing techniques in my genre, I’m of the opinion that it’s pretty useless. Not the Con, but the seminar. The knowledge you think you’re gaining means nothing until you apply it, and by the time you get home it’s either gone or committed to the pages of a notebook you won’t open again.



  20. holly holdren on September 21, 2012 at 8:51 AM

    “… what you can learn is the craft of writing. The art comes from inside you.”

    Loved this line … and the whole entry.

    After I started my Happy Holly Project blog, I discovered the Gretchen Rubin Happiness Project info.

    When I blogged about it, I got many many somewhat panicky messages to NOT read the book … lest it change the voice I had naturally.

    I have a voice.

    Who knew?



    • Jim Parsons on September 21, 2012 at 2:12 PM

      Hi Holly,

      Discovering your voice is just about the best moment any writer experiences…that, and a first sale. Thanks for reading the post and commenting.

      Jim



  21. Jennifer Major @Jjumping on September 21, 2012 at 8:40 AM

    If by classic writers you mean Mad Magazine and Tiger Beat, then yes, I lerned alawt.

    One thing I do notice about the greats, is that they are not afraid of adverbs!!!
    In 75 years, people might crack open a hard cover book and wonder why none of us used adverbs.

    “I do not compute? Why is there such a lack of adverbs?”
    “Don’t you know your history?”
    “What?”
    “Back then, adverbs were on the Endangered Species list. People couldn’t afford them, so they only used them sparingly. Like at Christmas and Al Gore’s birthday.”
    “Ohhhhhhhhhhh.”

    Another thing? Using any references to electricity in pre-Edison era writing!!!!



    • Stephen H. King on September 21, 2012 at 9:19 AM

      Adverbs are indeed like cocktails: bad when overindulged, but awfully tasty in moderation. Just like bad similes, in fact.



    • P. J. Casselman on September 21, 2012 at 5:29 PM

      I think adverbs are cool on their own, but get a big group of them and they start tearing the place down. 🙂



  22. Joe Pote on September 21, 2012 at 8:04 AM

    I like the “DO read with your ears” advice.

    I do that..always have…

    It has nothing to do with trying to improve my writing skills, but everything to do with really enjoying reading.

    I know lots of people who read faster than me, but not many who enjoy it more than me! 🙂



    • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on September 21, 2012 at 8:27 AM

      Oh yeah? oh yeah!! Is that a throw-down Joe?? Is it?? Huh? Is it???
      Sword drill, you and me, right now!!!



      • Joe Pote on September 21, 2012 at 10:06 AM

        LOL! Sure, I’ll take you on, Jennifer!

        Just so long as we steer clear of certain genres that I enjoy less than others… 😉



        • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on September 21, 2012 at 10:10 AM

          Ahahaha!! OR, we could make a campfire of 20 copies of 50 Shades of Garbage and make s’mores and talk about what to do if Casselman doesn’t finish #3 soon.



          • Joe Pote on September 21, 2012 at 10:25 AM

            Ah…a Casselman roast, huh? Seems appropriate.

            Just so you know…in that genre, you’d lose…or, at best, tie.

            Nobody could enjoy PJ’s combination of Arthurian Legend mixed with historical fantasy and vague scriptural references more then me! 😉



          • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on September 21, 2012 at 10:31 AM

            Joe, I did NOT say we’d roast him, we just need to politely urge him to skip sleeping so he can finish the book!!
            And you are SUCH a male. Fine, you win! But who’s gonna come grovelling when I pull out the “Jim got published!!!” celebratory low-carb cheesecake??? Well, he will, but anyway…



          • Joe Pote on September 21, 2012 at 5:41 PM

            “…you are SUCH a male.”

            Thanks!

            I’m naturally gifted, that way… 😉



          • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on September 21, 2012 at 5:43 PM

            You guys are hilarious! Friday is in the air!!



        • P. J. Casselman on September 21, 2012 at 5:18 PM

          Though in the midst of so many tragedies, you two just put a smile on my face. Thanks!



    • Stephen H. King on September 21, 2012 at 9:27 AM

      I find that hard to do. I keep having to get my ear closer and closer to the book, still with no success, until my head is actually resting on the page, at which point a sound that is remarkably like my own snoring commences.

      But no, seriously–one of my major “I’m done with the annoyingly crappy initial drafts” checks is that I’ll read the book out loud to my wife. It’s a lot easier to hear when passages and scenes aren’t working than it is to see them.



      • Joe Pote on September 21, 2012 at 10:08 AM

        Great idea, Stephen! You’re absolutely right.

        Sometimes when I have an important presentation to do, I’ll first do a test-run with people in my own department, for similar reasons.

        It helps expose the rough spots…



        • P. J. Casselman on September 21, 2012 at 5:19 PM

          Yes, but my wife doesn’t want to hear them, so I read to my beagle. If she howls, I re-draft.



          • Joe Pote on September 21, 2012 at 5:39 PM

            Good call! 😉



  23. carol brill on September 21, 2012 at 7:57 AM

    Thanks JR, a great list–wish I had it 10+ years ago when I started writing fiction.
    Back then, reading the classics confused me, because I did not know how to read them as a writer for specific aspects of craft.
    Learning to read as a writer has been a critical part of my development, although sometimes, it gets in the way of really savoring the story.Some days, I just want to pick up a book and be “just a reader”



    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on September 21, 2012 at 8:40 AM

      I suspect the most effective way to successfully bring the wisdom of others into your own writing IS to just be a reader.

      Let your subconscious do the heavy lifting, while you just enjoy the story.



      • Cherry Odelberg on September 21, 2012 at 11:08 AM

        Nothing seems more boring than to read classics because you have too. Hated them for assignments. Hate reading them just to analyze. You expressed it well. I love to read classics for the entertainment and somehow the craft sinks in – especially on the re-read of favorite books.



        • P. J. Casselman on September 21, 2012 at 5:14 PM

          Hear, hear! I loved “A Tale of Two Cities” because of the story. No one ever made me read it. An English teacher forced me to read Cat’s Cradle and I hated it. Oddly, I like Vonnegut’s other works. 🙂



    • Jim Parsons on September 21, 2012 at 11:18 AM

      Hi Carol, glad you enjoyed the post. Like many others I suspect, I sometimes felt forced to read the classics–18th, 19th or 20th century. I discovered that what fascinated me was not necessarily the story itself, but how the author put it together–or didn’t in some cases.

      Jim



  24. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on September 21, 2012 at 7:36 AM

    Well…the last time I cracked a classic was in high school, and then only under duress.

    And I have to confess that while I’m familiar with many of the technical aspects mentioned, I don’t know how to deploy most of them, and still am a bit unsure as to the difference between an adjective and an adverb.

    I write to tell a story. The literary devices that might find there way in are not recognized – at least not consciously – and are expected to humbly do their job, holding together the verbal scenery against which the play is set.

    After all, the play’s the thing.

    Zane Grey, right? I DO remember one of the greats!



    • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on September 21, 2012 at 8:25 AM

      Dude, “Major” is an adjective. “Majorly” is an adverb.
      Here, let’s use us in a sentence.
      “John, while a wonderful husband, has major issues with shaving his hideous beard. His fabulous wife, Jennifer, is majorly annoyed with his itchy grasp on a mid-life crisis. She would prefer a Ghia.”

      I am here for you!



      • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on September 21, 2012 at 8:38 AM

        You mean you married an adjective!?

        WAY cool!

        My original last name being ‘Budek’, my wife married line 6 on an eye chart…



        • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on September 21, 2012 at 8:45 AM

          Line 6? HAHAHAHA!!!
          “Budek”? Hmmm. She married 2 letters short of a wicked Scrabble score!

          We’re an arrogant lot, we can’t just say our name, we have to brag at the same time.
          With a maiden name that starts with a Z (that’s ZED) I think my family was on the line chart/Scrabble board with you.



      • Jim Parsons on September 21, 2012 at 11:06 AM

        Hey! No beard bashing…remember who wrote today’s guest post:-)

        Jim



        • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on September 21, 2012 at 11:15 AM

          Jim, YOU can have YOUR beard. *I* don’t have to deal with YOUR beard. *I* have to deal with Mr Major(-ly Irritating His Wife of 23 Years By Keeping This Hideous Fuzz On His Face).
          I’m not anti-beard. I’m anti-John Major having a beard.
          I married a nice man. Now I’m married to a nice man with a Chia pet for a chin.



          • Jim Parsons on September 21, 2012 at 3:16 PM

            Lol. I can see the newest Halloween costume accessory in the stores now. Add the Chin Chia to your purchase. Grow a (Jack Sparrow/Abe Lincoln/ZZ Top/add your own bearded favorite’s name) in 24 hours! Where’s the front of the line?



          • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on September 21, 2012 at 5:42 PM

            ZZTop Chia Pet Beard!! Rock bands and grass, quite a novel combination. Oh yeah, I went there.



    • Stephen H. King on September 21, 2012 at 9:31 AM

      Funny; I was in much the same boat. Anything my teachers required me to read (and that counts my college classes too) I automatically HATED. Chaucer and Dante? Both morons who couldn’t handle the English language worth a heck.

      While I still shudder at the names “Hawthorne” and “Shakespeare,” I’ve started really enjoying other classic writers lately. I’d suggest you start out with Twain. He wrote beautiful prose that’s more comfortable in khakis and a polo at a sports bar than in a tux at a steakhouse.

      – TOSK



      • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on September 21, 2012 at 10:53 AM

        I’ll give him a try – I tried to read Huck Finn years ago but came away with the thought that it was a well-crafted but poorly-camouflaged allegory of the Odyssey.



        • Jim Parsons on September 21, 2012 at 11:13 AM

          Ahhh Andrew, you went and used allegory in a sentence, thus betraying a disturbingly deep knowledge of literary devices. Me thinks he protests to much:-)



        • P. J. Casselman on September 21, 2012 at 5:04 PM

          I enjoyed Huck Finn because it was better than the other choice left in the sixth grade forced reading bin. The other book’s name slips me, but it had a girl in a dress on the cover. Quality choices for quality reads.



      • Kristin Laughtin on September 21, 2012 at 8:38 PM

        Dante at least gets the excuse of having written in Italian. 😉



    • Kristin Laughtin on September 21, 2012 at 8:37 PM

      In general (because there are exceptions!), a simple way to remember the difference is that adjectives describe a noun, while adverbs describe a verb. A main objection to the use of adverbs is that one can often find a stronger verb to describe an action instead of relying on an adverb + verb combo (i.e. “shouted” instead of “said loudly”).

      Adverbs usually end in -ly, but not always. For example, “often” in the last sentence of the above paragraph is an adverb, modifying “find”.



  25. Ernie Zelinski on September 21, 2012 at 5:10 AM

    Wasn’t it Ernest Hemingway who said:

    “Write drunk; edit sober.”

    That’s all I learned from Hemingway and it has served me rather well.



    • Judyth Hill on September 21, 2012 at 12:13 PM

      A Moveable Feast has a lot of fabulous advice…….



      • Jim Parsons on September 21, 2012 at 2:36 PM

        I agree, Judyth, though I’ve never much liked the “hunger is good discipline and you learn from it.” Thanks for your comments.

        Jim



  26. P. J. Casselman on September 21, 2012 at 2:46 AM

    The ability of the classics to bring out that which is within humans without stretching the bounds of credibility has always fascinated me. Dickens’ Scrooge is a caricature by today’s standards, yet believable in “A Christmas Carol.” The classic authors wrote simple sentences for their time and did not try to impress by their prose. Instead, they let simplistic wording of unique observations speak volumes. Consider these words of Dickens: “The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.” (Pickwick Papers) That is a brilliant statement in simple words. Modern writers should keep it simple, but amazingly so.
    Oh, and did you notice he used adverbs? 😛 )



    • Stephen H. King on September 21, 2012 at 9:45 AM

      Indeed; I think a long-lost element missing from Strunk & White should be noted: “Use adverbs carefully.” Or perhaps it should be “Use adverbs, carefully.”

      – TOSK



      • Jim Parsons on September 21, 2012 at 11:05 AM

        I was always a fan of one scene in a Columbo episode where the villain picks up a bottle and scratches a line in the glass with his ring while saying “This far and not farther.” I think it’s perfect when applied to adverbs.

        Jim



        • P. J. Casselman on September 21, 2012 at 11:54 AM

          I think that’s fair. Most adverbs add nothing to a sentence except emotion which can better be expanded. But sometimes they express ideas perfectly.



          • Stephen H. King on September 21, 2012 at 12:04 PM

            Actually, after posting and commenting I went into my library and resumed my reading of Twain’s novel Roughing It. As luck would have it, on the very first page I opened to, there were three adverbs. In a row.

            If only Mark Twain had abstained from adverbs, he might have made a name for himself.



      • P. J. Casselman on September 21, 2012 at 11:50 AM

        A-yup. I love the smell of adverbs in the morning.



    • Jim Parsons on September 21, 2012 at 2:31 PM

      I can’t help but think that if James Joyce or John le Carre had written that same thought, the results would have been twice as long:) Thanks for commenting.

      Jim



  27. Anon. on September 21, 2012 at 1:28 AM

    Great article, but, um… “It is a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done…” is Charles Dickens, not Victor Hugo.



    • P. J. Casselman on September 21, 2012 at 2:30 AM

      Mmm hmm, end of “A Tale of Two Cities.” That was one of my favorite books when I was a teenager.



    • Joe Pote on September 21, 2012 at 7:55 AM

      Yes…that had me puzzled, as well…

      I like Dickens enough to have read Tale of Two Cities more than once.



    • Jim Parsons on September 21, 2012 at 10:55 AM

      Anon,

      You, of course, are quite right. I originally planned to use a Hugo quote, changed my mind, and forgot to change the author to Dickens. My only hope is that I won’t be visited by the ghosts of Writers Past:-)

      Jim



      • Judyth Hill on September 21, 2012 at 12:10 PM

        Beautifully handled by everybody involved!! Graceful! Fun!



      • Peter DeHaan on September 21, 2012 at 6:17 PM

        What was the Hugo quote?



        • Jim Parsons on September 21, 2012 at 8:22 PM

          It was from Les Miserable, where Jean Valjean says, “It is nothing to die; it is dreadful not to live.”



      • Kristin Laughtin on September 21, 2012 at 8:29 PM

        Ha! I was wondering if it was this or if you were trying to do some weird thing with Hugo mimicking Dickens’ style and it not quite flowing as well. Then I thought, “But this doesn’t sound like something Hugo would write, either”, so then I wondered whether it was getting very meta with you imitating Hugo imitating Dickens.



      • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on September 21, 2012 at 8:49 PM

        You were gonna quote Hugo Boss?



  28. Michael Seese on September 21, 2012 at 1:09 AM

    A tangential, but complementary anecdote…

    Years ago, I was in a band with another fellow named Michael. When we first met, we talked about our musical influences. I mentioned that the Beatles were my favorite band. They were his as well. He then said, “So all of your songs have a middle 8?”

    I said, “No. Only the ones which require it.”

    He was a mimic.

    Back to your post, I always “read with my ears.” I’ve written prose which looks terrible but sounds — to me at least — like poetry. And, I believe my musical training plays a large role in that.



    • Jim Parsons on September 21, 2012 at 10:59 AM

      I hear you, Michael. Quite often I listen to music when I write. Unfortunately–perhaps not always–I catch myself singing my prose under my breath rather than the original lyrics. Thanks for reading my post.

      Jim



    • Cherry Odelberg on September 21, 2012 at 11:00 AM

      Nice coda.



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