It's time to stop feeling crushed and start using those moments to hone your own skills. Here's your step-by-step guide to doing just that.
1. Dog-Ear Your Books
Every time you read a line that brings you to a breathless halt, fold the page down (or up, if you're near the bottom of the page) to the line where the passage begins. Dog-earring lets you fold and keep reading, and if you get into the habit of doing it, it won't break your reading stride at all.
(Note to people who are horrified by the suggestion that you should dog-ear your books: I suppose you could use post-it flags, but that takes more time and effort.)
2. Write It Out
You'll need a dedicated spiral-bound notebook, so if you don't have one, put it on your list! After you finish the book, sit down and write out the passages that struck you into your spiral-bound notebook. Leave your margins intact, and a couple of blank lines between each passage. Be sure to put a note at the end indicating which book the passages came from in case you ever want to read it again.
3. Analyze This
Third, spend some time with each passage. What makes it so amazing? Strong verbs? Unusual adjectives? Alliteration? Short, choppy sentences? A unique metaphor? Make notes, underline, whatever will help you break each sentence down into its components. Your job is to deconstruct the passage, to understand how the parts were put together, to appreciate the nuances.
Do this with each and every passage you loved. If you had a lot, this could take you quite a while. Don't feel you have to do it all at once. Work on a few passages and then set them aside. Come back later.
4. Pattern Seeking
When you've finished all the passages for a book, go back over them, looking for patterns. What is the writer doing over and over that's speaking to you so much? How can you begin to consciously add those tricks to your repertoire?
One of my favorite writers is Dean Koontz. When I collect pieces of his writing in the manner described above, I end up with passages like this:
In a green polyester suit...and a tie that might have been the national flag of a third-world country famous for nothing but a lack of design sense, he looked like Dr. Frankenstein's beast gussied up for an evening of barhopping in Transylvania.
[He] had the teeth of a god and a face so unfortunate that it argued convincingly against the existence of a benign deity.So what's Koontz doing that's working for me? Well, first of all he's focusing on details in his descriptions, details that bring the characters to life. Even more than that, though, what stands out is his flamboyant, unexpected use of metaphor and hyperbole.
5. Try It Out
Once you've identified what's working for you, to play with the techniques in your own writing. Make them your own.
The kind of hyperbole and humor Koontz is using above doesn't often work in my writing, but I have gotten pretty good at a) finding details to bring a scene to life and b) using metaphor and its close cousin simile. Here's a sample I'm pleased with:
He swerved, and a traffic light flashed by on their right, larger than she’d have thought traffic lights would be. The wire that had once held it aloft eddied across the road in a black tangle. Green and red and gold chips were spattered across the asphalt like misplaced casino currency.Your turn! What do you love about you favorite authors' writing? How can you make their techniques your own?
Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD writes fantasy, scifi, and nonfiction. She loves helping writers "get their psych right" in their stories, and her book on the same topic, THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment, and Human Behavior is now available for pre-order. Learn more about the book at the WGTP website or ask your own psychology and fiction question here.