Learning to Write

Learning to write

I decided that before starting on the second draft I am going to read ten very good books by other authors to take a look at their methods, rather than content. You know, I love tinkering with the apps on my phone to get myself warmed up before a writing session, mostly to play casino games like those on casinospil.net but I guess this time I should busy myself with something more related to what I’m about to do.
Most of those books are new to me and recommended by the readers of my Polish blog (thanks to all of you!) I just finished a brick of a book, my description of which you will find at the end, and at the same time I am slowly getting through “Independent People” by Halldor Laxness, an Icelandic Noble Prize winner.

“Independent People” isn’t – to me – an extremely exciting piece of reading (also it has approx. 1500 pages, too) but definitely can’t be called boring, and the ice cold (hoho) humour which shows every now and then makes it easier to get through depressive, detailed discussion of semi-frozen, hungry, hard-working, half-poisoned by brushwood and peat smoke people. Who are, indeed, independent. Sort of.

Here are the first five books I’ve read:

1) “Big Little Lies” by Liane Moriarty

I would never guess that a book about families of kids who attend the same school (I am not a major fan of kids) could be so enticing. Similarly as “The Secret History” (read on) first you are presented with a perfect picture, but slowly scratches and cracks start to appear.

What I have learned: make things more complicated than they secretly appear.

What I am planning to rip off: the way to build conflicts slowly, bit by bit, detailed characters, that bullying doesn’t only apply to children.


2) “Gone Girl” (also “Sharp Objects” and “Dark Places”) by Gillian Flynn

What I have learned: the book I got is a “complete Gillian Flynn omnibus” e-book, which meant I had no idea how long “Gone Girl” is actually going to be. I was reading, shrugging every now and then, convinced it’s an okay book and that I know everything that’s going to happen. Then it got to its (obvious) ending. I thought. Because the book didn’t end and since that moment I had absolutely no clue what is going to happen next. No more spoilers.

What I am planning to rip off: I love the fact that the book doesn’t end when you expect it to, although I don’t know how to do it with a book that isn’t an omnibus. Perhaps I’ll switch to 8pt type on the last 50 pages or so.


“Sharp Objects”, “Dark Places”

The readers of my blog told me not to expect those two to be as good as “Gone Girl”, and they weren’t. Again, I guessed how “Sharp Objects” would end, it’s an interesting study, but not so much a story. “Dark Places” is more interesting and built in very unusual surroundings; it’s hard to guess and sometimes hard to read. But I’d recommend this one.

What I am planning to rip off: I have to build more relationships between secondary characters, because the first draft basically goes “the inn owner was called Gu∂run”.

7/10 and 8/10, and if not for having just been spoilt by “Gone Girl” I might have scored them better.

3) “The Year of Our War” by Steph Swainson

Unfortunately I can’t read this, although the beginning sounds interesting. There are Insects in it. With capital I. Described in lots of detail. I don’t do insects. The lead seems a character that I’d like to write about; “The Game of Thrones” got me used to avoiding cliches of “The Bad Ones” and “The Good Ones”. Unfortunately “The Year of Our War” is not going to teach me anything more, because there are too many Insects, and the writer proceeds to describe in great detail “thick yellow fluids” and “still convulsively moving appendages” (I am not checking if those quotes are correct, soz). That’s where I have to stop. Dead human bodies, rivers of blood, brutal rapes, massacred bodies, torture, eating brains with a spoon – no problems there. Insects – too much.

4) “The Hours” by Michael Cunningham

It went fast, the book is short and I almost memorised it… almost…

What I have learned: there is very little actual story in this book. Reading it to research the way it is written, rather than what it is about, made me understand why the movie was successful; there’s no need to cut (almost) anything to fit in allotted time. But how much detail is in there? Where I would write “he looked at the clock”, Cunningham will write “she looked at the clock, with its plain green face, locked in a black bakelite sarcophagus”. Everything is described like that. Plus the bonus, where Clarissa (who is played by Meryl Streep in the movie) is wondering if she just saw Meryl Streep. Delicious. This isn’t in the movie, so you need to 1) watch, 2) read and 3) giggle a bit.

What I am planning to rip off: not too much, since my first draft already has 186 single-spaced Word pages and if I describe everything in detail I will end up with a trilogy of three 800-page books, but I intend to create all the buildings in The Sims, not to accidentally repaint the walls or add additional floors 100 pages later.

11/10 – this is my favourite book ever. And it makes me want to give a fifth try to “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf; somehow I never managed to advance past page five, but maybe this time…

5) “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt

I don’t spoil anything by saying it’s a book about murder of a kid called Bunny, because it’s mentioned, like, on the second page. (Out of 15000. It’s a BIG BOOK.) The fact that someone dies isn’t what the writer is most concerned with, though. What she is interested in is psychology, relations between her characters, motivations etc. And there’s the fact that she created a small, claustrophobic group of students who both are and aren’t a part of large university.

What I have learned: there is a tiny continuity error. I’d never notice that had I been reading the story instead of the ‘shop. (I’m not going to tell you what it is, because this is something you don’t forget once you found out.) Which is why I intend to write everything about my characters down. If I mention that doctor’s wife’s curtains were adorned with little roses, which she wasn’t really fond of, but the fabric was on sale and the colour almost matched with the peach-coloured walls, I am going to write all that down. There are also a few of those bits that Hitchcock would call “a gun hanging on the wall”. The gun does not appear anywhere further. This is perhaps intended to throw the reader off a bit, but it resulted in me waiting for something to happen with this arc until the last page. Nothing happened.

What I intend to rip off: not much really. My book is already set in a claustrophobic environment, Tartt shows me how she has managed to pull it off, which is interesting, but not necessarily useful. It is, though, the sort of atmosphere I want to build, and “The Secret History” does it well.

8.5/10. If you like crime stories full of unexpected twists and turns, this is not for you. If, on the other hand, you are heavily introverted – like me, like watching rare birds and find pleasure in discovering psychology of intelligent people who don’t reveal everything, this book is for you.

Thank you to everyone who recommended those to me!

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