By: Dr. Dawn Field
The best way to learn to write is to read. Not just read, but close read. Not only once, slowly, looking for how a book is put together, but twice – or more. You’ll keep finding patterns in a great book. Especially look for what you love most.
Oh, I’m just starting the book, “A Man called Ove.”
Oh, what a great movie. Brilliant. What a huge Swedish export.
Yes, I’ve meant to read the book for ages. I’m five chapters in, but I had a tough time starting.
You know — elements.
Ah, they weren’t the same as the movie somehow?
Exactly, I love the first scene in the movie when he buys flowers for his wife’s grave, and in the book, he’s trying to buy a computer, and he doesn’t know what one is. I couldn’t get into it. I like the character too much. But after about five false starts, I put aside time and got into it. So glad to be in now. The second chapter is right in step with the beginning of the movie – Ove doing rounds.
(Smiles thinking of the movie.) I remember — Ove’s great act of responsibility. The cat, walking the neighborhood, kicking signs.
Yes! Once you know the story, you see where and why an author is planting all those ‘story seeds.’ I love that.
(Read a book twice to see them, the first time you won’t see them, but the second time around you’ll see how they developed.)
And there is a real standout feature, right from the start.
(Big smile of anticipation. The best part of developmental editing is finding the great features – let’s call these standout features – the something special an author adds.)
Fredrik Backman, the author, has this unique way of “elaborating,” let’s say. He presents a phrase, then defines it in a really unique way. Here’s an example.
See that? How he expanded the phrase, ‘shoved his hands’? He keeps doing this. It’s his thing.
Elaborations are so necessary, making the abstract concrete, the general specific.
I love this one:
“…shakes his head in disbelief, as if he’s just witnessed the sales assistant walking around the counter and licking the glass-fronted display cabinet.”
Oh, that’s funny!
Yes, humor is his other standout feature from the get-go. Here’s a great description:
“…she’s either very pregnant or suffering from what Ove would categorize as selective obesity.”
(Laugh. Nods.) Can’t you see one of those super pregnant women who otherwise doesn’t have an extra ounce of fat?
I see great elements everywhere. The writing is so rich and readable.
Oh! Look at all your circling and underlining and annotations in the margins! And all the red! Your method of ‘red pen praising’ the best of what you see.
The very best is Ove’s love for his wife. Here’s an ‘I love this!” quote:
“He was a man of black and white.
And she was color. All the color he had.”
Oh, stunning. Really memorable. A “summer-upper,” I call them.
(Nods.) An excellent basis for a story. So relatable and heartwarming.
He writes a single-sentence paragraph, followed by a two-sentence paragraph. This phrasing really highlights the message by contrast. Well executed. He knows what he’s doing.
That’s an understatement, and it gets better:
“The only thing he had ever loved until he saw her was numbers.”
What a great description of his character, you can guess loads of things about him just from those few words.
And even better. Guess the clincher at the end of chapter 5.
Does he repeat it?
Yes! Use and re-use! He uses it again at the end of the chapter. And we remember precisely where we’ve heard it before. Right before it, he uses a flash-forward to set up the book:
“Then one morning he boarded a train and saw her for the first time. That was the first time he’d laughed since his father’s death.
And life was never again the same.”
See, there’s another single-sentence paragraph for emphasis.
What a love story. A real standout for the book. I’ll have to read it too.
Yes, the whole story is a standout. Smash hit by word of mouth.
Developmental editors love a great read and are expert close readers.
One of the best objective measures of the quality of a read, compared to a novice text, is how much you can red pen praise.
What you want most in your writing are standout features.
What are the standout features of books you have read – or written? What elements did you read or use? Was there elaboration or understatement in the writing? Feedback via comments help us all improve, or give us an opportunity to read a new author.
Bio: Dr. Dawn Field
Dawn Field is a book lover and scientist interested in what makes great writing.
She is the founder of Unity in Writing, LLC where she writes about writing, language and science and loves giving feedback and brainstorming with authors as a developmental editor.
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