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Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who… (2006)

by Francine Prose

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3,279903,052 (3.74)221
Before there were workshops and degrees, how did aspiring writers learn to write? By reading the work of their predecessors and contemporaries, says author and teacher Prose. Prose invites you on a guided tour of the tools and the tricks of the masters. She reads the very best writers and discovers why their work has endured. She takes pleasure in the magnificent sentences of Philip Roth and the breathtaking paragraphs of Isaac Babel; she is moved by the brilliant characterization in George Eliot's Middlemarch. She looks to John Le Carré for how to advance plot through dialogue, to Flannery O'Connor for the cunning use of the telling detail, and to James Joyce and Katherine Mansfield for clever examples of how to employ gesture to create character. She cautions readers to slow down and pay attention to words, the raw material out of which literature is crafted.--From publisher description.… (more)
  1. 00
    Lady with Lapdog and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov (sturlington)
    sturlington: Prose refers to the short stories of Chekhov extensively.
  2. 00
    How Novels Work by John Mullan (ajsomerset)
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» See also 221 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 90 (next | show all)
examples of good writing
  ritaer | Aug 7, 2021 |
It was a pleasure to read this book. Francine Prose examines dozens of works by authors ranging from Chekhov to Jane Austen to Elmore Leonard. Organized into sections on Words, Sentences, Paragraphs, Narration, Character, Dialogue, Details and Gesture, she gives us the tools so we can look under the hood at art and discover what makes great literature great. ( )
  LenJoy | Mar 14, 2021 |
2.4.21 looking at this for first time in a long time: there are at least 9 tags - may want to revisit this - remember hearing her at Powells - she reminded me of Deb ( )
  Overgaard | Feb 4, 2021 |
I wasn’t really a fan of this, even though I can see that it’s likely going to be beneficial to many. The vast majority of stories and novels that Prose is recommending for worship seem not that interesting to me. I feel that there were too many male authors mentioned, and also I don’t enjoy short stories very much so it’s unlikely I’ll do any follow up on those.

I do heartily agree with the premise that of course writers should be readers first, but I have a problem with talking about “the greats” versus just great reads; I think writers can also get a ton out of genre fiction and not just the (what appears to me) pretentious stuff. Also the Chekhov hard on was annoying.

Ok so I just did math based on the “read these now” list at the back of the book, and less than 19% (18.6) were written by women. I’m taking another half star just because a woman should know better. ( )
  spinsterrevival | Jan 17, 2021 |
A guide to stealing useful ideas from the Great and the Good, assembled by Francine Prose, who as well as being a novelist is a long-serving stalwart of the American "Creative Writing" industry — even though she admits to doubts as to whether you can, or should, teach creative writing.

That aside, Prose obviously is a good teacher, and like many good teachers of literature, she's at her best when she's taking a text apart and showing you what is special about it. The discussions of general principles might across as rather generic and predictable, but the book comes alive when she is talking about specific examples. There are detailed chapters on most of the main building-blocks of fiction: words, sentences, paragraphs, characters, dialogue, details, and gesture. With, each time, a range of examples from contemporary writers as well as from the giants of the (US) academic canon to show the effect of the choices writers make in these areas. The book ends with a chapter dedicated to Chekhov's short stories, and another on the importance of courage (by which she means intelligent rule-breaking) in literature, and of course we aren't allowed to leave the classroom without a copy of her list of required reading. Judging by the 20-30% of this that is already familiar territory to me, I should think it's worth pursuing other names on the list as well. But I'm sure no reader of this book would ever have time to read everything on the list, if they were starting from zero!

Obviously, there are topics and writers she doesn't cover: although she reminds us that rules are there to be broken, the focus is on the sort of mainstream fiction that is expected from Creative Writing students in US colleges, so there won't be much there for anyone who wants to explore the specific opportunities and restrictions of genre fiction. Nor does she deal with writing from outside the US and the most important bits of the dominant European traditions (France from Balzac to Proust, Germany from Kleist to Mann, Russia from Turgenev to Chekhov, Britain from the Brontës to Henry Green).

But to talk about the narrowness of her examples is to miss the point: she wants to show us what we can find in a text if we take the trouble to ask the kind of questions she does about how a particular passage achieves its effect on the reader, and what we can steal from that to use in our own work.

The book made me re-read one of the pieces she discusses in some detail, Kleist's novella Die Marquise von O, which I thought I knew quite well, but I found myself noticing things in it that I hadn't seen before, so the technique obviously works, at least in the short term!

It's just a pity that a book which spends so much time showing us how to spot clichés and eliminate them from our work, and how to persuade publishers to allow us to break rules, ends up with the most clichéd cover design it's possible to have on a book-about-books. There must have been someone once who was the first person to do a cover design based on book-spines, but it certainly wasn't within the last forty or fifty years... ( )
  thorold | Nov 21, 2020 |
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This book is dedicated to my teachers:
Monroe Engel, Alberta Magzanian, and Phil Schwartz.
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Before there were workshops and degrees, how did aspiring writers learn to write? By reading the work of their predecessors and contemporaries, says author and teacher Prose. Prose invites you on a guided tour of the tools and the tricks of the masters. She reads the very best writers and discovers why their work has endured. She takes pleasure in the magnificent sentences of Philip Roth and the breathtaking paragraphs of Isaac Babel; she is moved by the brilliant characterization in George Eliot's Middlemarch. She looks to John Le Carré for how to advance plot through dialogue, to Flannery O'Connor for the cunning use of the telling detail, and to James Joyce and Katherine Mansfield for clever examples of how to employ gesture to create character. She cautions readers to slow down and pay attention to words, the raw material out of which literature is crafted.--From publisher description.

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Book description
In this book — subtitled "A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them," — Prose shares how she developed her writing craft through writing and reading. She uses examples from literature to demonstrate how fictional elements, such as character and dialogue, can be mastered.
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