Read This if You Want to Be a Great Writer
In his book, Read This If You Want to Be a Great Writer, author Ross Raisin emphasizes his theme of “experiment” in every chapter. He encourages having fun with writing, but also advises his readers to reach out and expand their variety of reading materials.
In each chapter he makes his statement about the chapter topic, and follows it up with specific examples—again, focusing on experimenting with writing.
The chapter topics flow smoothly from the Introduction (the seed) to the First Steps; Technique; and Honing. In each chapter he lays out a plan relating to the topic.
He covers a lot of ground, but leaves the reader with the sense that this is not a book for beginners. Having said that, the beginning writer will find some of his discussions enlightening.
In the chapter First Steps, he talks about autofiction—“the blending together of fiction and autobiography,” a style first introduced in the 1970s. “What the form does . . . is challenge preconceived notions of what fiction is supposed to look like.” While this discussion is interesting, the beginning writer may find it daunting.
He further discusses form here, again suggesting experimenting with story form. “Developing your knowledge of a particular genre—its conventions of structure, theme, character so that you know the specific effects that can be achieved within it, is a much better way of serving your idea than incuriously sticking to a template.” Experiment.
His strongest chapter deals with technique. When he discusses place, he explains, “It is at its most charged, however, when it melds with plot and character. The meaning of the place is in its relation to the characters that live within it.”
One of his best sections in the chapter on Technique is his discussion of point of view. While most creative writing books will spend a great deal of time trying to explain POV, Raisin keeps his information short and specific, using good examples of his discussion points.
Again, he brings experimenting into the picture: “Point of view is not some dry analytical component to impose upon your writing; it is something to explore and have fun with.” Any writer will say that point of view can be a challenge to understand, but Raisin’s explanation of the various aspects brings clarity to the subject.
And yet again, the theme of experimentation rises to the surface. “When you begin a first draft, neither style nor content will be fully formed—and it is with this first draft that you can experiment, in trying to develop that relationship.”
Further in this chapter he talks about plot. “The plot of a narrative is the pattern of events that occur, set in motion by cause and effect. . . . you could think of it like dominoes: If the story is a long snaking line of dominoes, then plot is what happens when you tip over the first one.”
Raisin’s take on dialogue is especially enlightening. “If your dialogue does not feel convincing, it probably means that the characters speaking it are not convincing. . . . Dialogue . . . is simply another manifestation of character.” Further to how dialogue affects the story, he talks about the importance of: “non-verbal features, the smiles and scowls and winks and nods, the physical distance between speakers—all of the body language that cannot be easily transcribed in the speech act.”
An interesting discussion at the end of this chapter covers originality, where he attempts to explain to the reader what originality really means to a writer and a publisher. “When we talk about originality, it might be the originality of the storyline, or it might be the originality of form—but if it is truly original, the two go hand in hand. . . . So often when we say that something is original, what we really mean is just that it’s bloody good.”
In further discussing this topic, Raisin uses several examples of writing that may be confusing to many. In this section, these examples may be difficult for a beginning writer to read and should be taken with a grain of salt. “Of course, a work of highly inventive fiction is not going to be to every reader’s taste.”
In the last chapter, Honing, Raisin talks about the importance of editing: “There are two harnessed visions that go into any piece of fiction writing: the imaginative one that you set out with, and the clear-eyed editorial vision that does it justice.”
According to Raisin, editing falls into two techniques: separation, that allows the writer to view his/her work objectively; and specificity, that occurs when the author does a general read-through, focusing on plot progression, character development, structure, word repetition, theme, subtlety, point of view and tense, elements, continuity, punctuation, and esotericism. If the author truly follows the editing technique of specificity, there will be at least ten read-throughs—one for each of these items.
Although this is a small book, it is packed full of information. While it may be a bit beyond the writer who is tipping his/her toe in the water for the first time, the book has many valuable hints and suggestions. Well worth the investment for anyone truly interested in understanding the path one follows to write fiction—not only for him/herself, but for those who will be reading.