Reading Up: Studying Writing

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: March 31, 2014
Categories: Craft, Inspiration
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blue studyingSome years ago I heard Kirby Larson speak about the genesis of her Newberry-Honor winning novel, Hattie Big Sky.

As I remember (though know that I do not have my mother’s phenomenal memory!)—as I remember from that talk, at one point Kirby had a long-lasting case of writer’s block. She was officially Not Writing. However, after her grandmother provided the “wild horses” kernel for the novel (read more about it here), Kirby did all sorts of things that moved her toward writing this story, all while continuing to tell herself that she wasn’t writing. She conducted research of one sort and another. She traveled to Montana more than once. And she typed out a copy of a novel she admired, intimately learning its timing, pacing, phrasing…  I guess it’s somewhat like art students copying master paintings to learn from the giants who had come before.

While I never yet took the time to learn by typing out a favorite book, I remain intrigued by the idea.

Here are a couple of novels I’ve read lately that I’d think of typing out–or, at any rate, studying more—and what it is I want to study further:


1)      A Girl Named Disaster, by Nancy Farmer

-I like the sweep of a longer novel for young readers, with an intricate plot and many places and stages in the heroine’s life.

-I like how so much cultural information about a world far removed from the North American reader’s is pocketed interestingly here and there, without the feeling of an information dump.

-And I like the satisfying ending that ties up questions from the beginning of the novel about the heroine’s parentage. Many novels, even for young readers, leave things open, which can be OK, but I’ve noticed that I like a good sense of rounding off, of closure in a novel.


2)      Come Sing, Jimmy Jo, by Katherine Paterson AND The Great Gilly Hopkins, AND

-I like how in all her books Ms. Paterson subtly paints people and the dynamics of the relationships between them, how she uses words to create in us, her readers, the emotions she wants us to have, the feelings her heroes and heroines have.


3)      Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett

-I like how Ann Patchett moves us along to being wholly enmeshed in the lives and fates of her characters, coming to care deeply about both the hostages and their captors.


What about you? What novels have you read recently that you would like to study more closely and apply their lessons to your own work?


-Sabina I. Rascol

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