If you want to write – read

I’ve heard it said in writing classes and read it in many books on writing: if you want to write well you need to read widely. This truth of this is perhaps obvious, but at the same time I’ve found that despite reading avidly and widely and well (I think I can claim that!) I still found I had a huge amount to learn when I set out to write a novel.

Yes if you want to write, you need to read widely, but you also need to read with an eye to writing. As well as enjoying the story, the writer needs to think about the bones beneath the skin, the network of veins, the nerve endings, the pulsing blood, the muscles and the marrow. You get the metaphor!

So I want to try and put a practical application to the fiction I’m reading by using it as a model for a piece of description. It might start me off on a whole new story. Who knows? I’m taking a passage from my book club read this month, Brick Lane by Monica Ali. In steps, this is how she describes Brick Lane from a close 3rd person point of view. I’m going to take the steps and apply them to a whole new place, time and character. Here’s the sentence-by-sentence plan:

1. Start with a wide angle lens view of the landscape in front of the character. Try for a simile but avoid adjectives. This sets the scene and places your character somewhere the reader recognises.

2. Describe a person your character notices in this wide view. If a person doesn’t fit your scene, pick an animal, or a building or tree even. The person or thing is moving. Put your character’s interpretation on the action he/she sees.

3. Describe another person/people/thing doing something different. Again, bring your character’s interpretation. That’s what brings the scene to life.

4. Sum up the wide angle scene.

5. Focus in on your character, naming them and placing them in the scene. In the example I’m working from the character has been walking along a road and now stops.

6. In four or five sentences describe in detail the place where your character has stopped. But think about this. If possible, make it something that has a bearing on your character’s issue/challenge.

So that’s less than 10 sentences. Can’t be too hard – right?

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