How To Steal To Write A Better Narrative
edited: Tuesday, June 07, 2005
By Lyn Halper
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Sunday, May 22, 2005
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If you want to raise the level of your writing from amateur-sounding to professional,learn to "steal."
This is the best thing I can tell fellow writers: if you want to give your writing a boost -- "steal." Of course I'm not talking about plagiarizing in any way. The idea is to be uniquely ourselves, but to inject that note of literary professionalism into the writing that makes it so beautiful,it hurts.
I'm not sure how or when I learned this trick, but after I had integrated it into my skill-sets, some professors in my MAW program spoke about it, and I came across other teachers who use some variation of it in writing workshops. The writer and teacher, Josip Novakovich in his book, Fiction Writer's Workshop under a heading, "Rob from books," says, "In 'Notes From Underground' Fyodor Dostoyevski writes, "Only if I could become an insect!" Franz Kafka takes this line and makes "The Metamorphosis" out of it."
"Stealing" from the pros can ignite a crucial idea, enable us to write variations on a theme, and also help us to gain a literary voice.
Most of us, even those who are creative types, were not born with a literary voice. Thus, most of the creative writing we do will come out sounding somewhat like ourselves, and with polish, maybe a little better. But,there is a way to go further. It is possible to ratchet up our ordinary "voice" and write prose that has the quality of a literary wordsmith.
Try this. First, write a paragraph or two on any subject you wish. It might be something you intend for a novel or short story. Okay. If, when you read it back, it sounds like Hemingway, or Joyce Carol Oates, nothing needs to be done. But if not, hunt through the literature till you find a "master" who has written something of a similar nature. Usually, the piece will captivate you with its tone, pacing, electricity, eloquence. Immerse yourself in it till it saturates your consciousness. Then go back to your own piece, and re-write it. Write when you're sure you are under the influence of the paradigm piece. Then compare the two versions. Almost certainly, the second will be astoundingly superior. It will not be a knock-off of the "master," and if it bears a certain resemblance, well, even a poor imitation of a genius is still going to be something to admire. It does take time and patience to find the right piece(s) to be a model, but the effort is more than worth it. This technique is a way of accessing and prodding the subconscious (the muse) to come up with higher quality material and more fluid style.
As for me, since I learned this "trick" I have had fiction and poems published in good lit mags and, in November 2004, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Good luck. Let me know how you make out.