Thought for the Day: "I spent three days a week for 10 years educating myself in the public library, and it's better than college. People should educate themselves - you can get a complete education for no money. At the end of 10 years, I had read every book in the library and I'd written a thousand stories." ~Ray Bradbury (1920 - 2012)
Ray Bradbury, who died on June 5, 2012, was the author of Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man
and numerous other works, and was also and obviously a big reader...
Notice the equation in the quote above: ten years of reading equals a
thousand stories. This is our Thought for the Day because what you are
going to do this week in order to help yourself as a writer is choose something that you loved to read. The thing you choose will be your Model Text;
that is, the text itself (short story, novel, graphic novel, poem,
essay, screenplay, etc.) will teach you something that you can strive
towards and emulate in your own work. (Teachers: this is something like
working with a Mentor Text. If you would like more information about
Mentor Texts, please let me know.)
Choose a piece of writing that is similar to something you want to
write. If you are writing a fantasy novel, choose a fantasy novel that
you have read and loved. If you want to write a realistic short story,
choose one that you really admire and, again, one that is similar in
subject and style to what you want to write and what you are able to
write. You should not necessarily choose the best thing ever written. I
admire Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury very much, but I do not write like Faulkner, nor do I intend to try. I have chosen Anne Tyler's Saint Maybe
for this exercise in the past because I think she is a wonderful
writer, her books are the kind that I want to write, and because on my
very best day, when all the planets are aligned and the universe is
smiling on me, I can kind of write a little bit like Anne Tyler (while
ideally remaining entirely myself, creatively speaking).
Note: If you can't come up with a text to study and emulate, then you are not reading enough.
Stephen King says, "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the
time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. Reading is the creative
center of a writer's life." While you catch up with your reading, I
would be happy to help you find a model text, just get in touch with me (Dr. Mandyck).
Step 2: Make a THOROUGH study of your Model Text.
If it is a shorter piece, then read it again. If a longer one, then
skim it. Consider the following:
How many pages long is your text?
How many chapters?
Do the chapters have titles or just numbers?
Does the author use epigraphs, diary entries, letters, anything like that?
How long are the paragraphs?
Is there a lot of dialogue or a little?
A lot of description or a little?
Action-packed or more contemplative or internal?
First person or third?
How many narrators?
Big words or small?
Flowery prose or plain?
How much time passes from beginning to end?
How many characters are there? (You should probably write them all down.)
Are they mostly male or female?
What is the setting?
Who do you think is the intended audience?
What is the conflict that drives the plot?
How is the story resolved?
Your questions will be different if you are writing poetry or
nonfiction, and you will probably notice some things that I don't ask
about here, but I hope you see what I mean. You should be intimately
familiar with your model text and really understand what went into its
Step 3: Write a one-page report on your Model Text,
describing it in as much detail as you can. Don't critique it or praise
it, just describe it. For example: "Anne Tyler's Saint Maybe
is about a family of five adults and three children and takes place over
the course of 27 years. Each chapter is narrated by a different
third-person limited speaker, and each chapter has a title that serves
to illustrate the theme of the chapter, although does not name it
explicitly ("The Man Who Forgot How To Fly" is one example). Tyler uses
a lot of dialogue, detail and exclamation points." And so on.
Step 4 is a Writing Prompt:
Consider the thing you are trying to write, even if it exists only in
your head right now. What characteristics of your Model Text can you
use in your piece of writing? Write another report, which might be
several pages long, on the Piece of Writing That Is Yet-To-Be,
describing it in detail. You might not yet have all these answers, but
you should consider and address them in your report. For example, who
is your main character? Who are the supporting characters? Where is
the story set? What year is it? Are you writing long chapters or
scenes or short ones? Is the action building to a climax, or is the
struggle to be more subtle or internal? If you have a work in progress,
great. Thoroughly describe it as it is right now AND describe what you
have in mind for it as you go on.
And here is the kicker: what is your piece ABOUT?
When someone asks you (and they will), "What is your story, novel,
screenplay about?" what will you say? Imagine that you are writing the
blurb for the inside cover of your book, or the short description of the
movie that will be made of your book. : ) (The inside cover of Saint Maybe
says, "In 1965 the Bedloe family lives on a quiet street in Baltimore.
It is an ideal, apple-pie household, and seventeen-year-old Ian has all
the usual expectations and dreams for the future. That is, until the
night when he meddles in his older brother's life--and from that
careless moment on, nothing can ever be the same." Try something like
This will probably be hard! The first time I did this exercise with a
novel in progress, the first thing I wrote in my report on my own work
was: "I have no idea what this novel is about!" So, struggle with it,
if you must. Work on it over several days at least, and keep thinking
about it even when you are not sitting down to write; let your
subconscious mind chew on it too. When you feel finished, you can put
it aside, but someplace handy because you WILL come back to it as you
continue to work.
4 Reasons for Making Time To Read
Anne Tyler: Author Interview
Resources and Links:
Creative Writing Exercises for Craft
Be a Better Writer