Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Learn How to Write: Imitate

Glimmer Train literary journal offers this interesting piece by recent contest winner Cary Groner about learning to write. Here’s an enticing excerpt:

“When I read writers I admire—a long list that includes Chekhov, Alice Munro, Updike, Antonya Nelson, Aimee Bender, Joyce, George Saunders, Ishiguro, Michael Chabon, Kafka, Murakami, Richard Russo, David Foster Wallace, and others—I try to pay attention to their strengths, to what they do well, and learn from them. I write imitations of, and variations on, their work—as exercises and sometimes even as stories.

“I'm not talking about plagiarism, of course, because by the time I'm done, even those authors probably wouldn't recognize the original in the copy—or if they did see it, I hope they'd also see that my riff was more an homage than a ripoff. But you can learn an incredible amount if you do this carefully, and I'd recommend it to anyone. See how Updike describes a snowstorm, or traveling in a car with a friend. See how Antonya Nelson deftly and strategically inserts backstory to drive frontstory forward, not merely to provide information. See how Munro buries the central conflicts in her stories well beneath the surface, so that you sense them even without being able to articulate what they are. See how Henry James leads you on a POV continuum from very close third person to very distant third person, changing perspective and language accordingly, sometimes within a single paragraph. See how David Foster Wallace shifts back and forth between the close-third of different characters so subtly you barely notice, and infuses writing of great intellectual power with incredible sweetness. See how Chekhov brings in weird details that are never explained and seem irrelevant, but that somehow bring his stories to life. Find other techniques you like and admire, then try to replicate them in your own stories.”

You can read the rest here:


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.