Ever wished you could write as well as your favourite author? The best thing my writing course taught me was how to train myself to write better by reading great books. The wisdom of your favourite author is right under your nose … literally.
Here are some steps you can follow. I’ve added examples to show how I’ve used this process to improve my own writing.
1. Identify an area to improve on in your own writing
What specifically would you like to work on? What areas do you struggle with or wish to do better?
My example: The dialogue between my twelve-year-old characters didn’t sound as natural as it should.
2. Choose an author who does this thing well
Can you name an author you love who does this particular thing well in their writing?
My example: I knew that JK Rowling writes well-paced and convincing children’s dialogue, so she’s my go-to girl.
3. Pay attention to stylistic choices when you read
Read your chosen author’s writing and pay attention to what he or she is doing on a sentence level. If you look closely enough, you should be able to spot the techniques and language choices the author made in achieving their goal. This is stuff we readers often don’t notice or imagine just happened effortlessly. Tip: Ask yourself what patterns does your author have, and does he or she ever break them?
My example: After reading a scene from Harry Potter, I noticed that JK Rowling uses several techniques to write natural-sounding dialogue: 1. she varies the pattern of turn-taking, 2. the characters each have a unique-sounding voice, 3. she uses a vocabulary that matches the age of the characters, and 4. she breaks up chunks of dialogue with action and description to add flow and variety.
4. Apply this to your own writing
Now that you know what your favourite authors are actually doing, you can learn from them. Play around with the techniques and see if they help you to solve your problem.
My example: I knew that my dialogue could be improved by using some of JK Rowling’s techniques. I tried varying the turn-taking, making my characters sound more distinct and age-appropriate, and adding short descriptions to break up chunks of dialogue. These techniques made my dialogue sound much more natural. Problem solved! Not to mention, I just took a writing lesson from the great JK Rowling herself!
Write to me in the comments if you would like more examples for using this process. I’ll happily help if you get stuck trying!