Read Like A Writer

There are two ways to learn how to write fiction: by reading it and by writing it. Yes, you can learn lots about writing stories in workshops, in writing classes and writing groups, at writers' conferences. You can learn technique and process by reading the dozens of books like this one on fiction writing and by reading articles in writers' magazines. But the best teachers of fiction are the great works of fiction themselves. You can learn more about the structure of a short story by reading Anton Chekhov's 'Heartache' than you can in a semester of Creative Writing 101. If you read like a writer, that is, which means you have to read everything twice, at least. When you read a story or novel the first time, just let it happen. Enjoy the journey. When you've finished, you know where the story took you, and now you can go back and reread, and this time notice how the writer reached that destination. Notice the choices he made at each chapter, each sentence, each word. (Every word is a choice.) You see now how the transitions work, how a character gets across a room. All this time you're learning. You loved the central character in the story, and now you can see how the writer presented the character and rendered her worthy of your love and attention. The first reading is creative—you collaborate with the writer in making the story. The second reading is critical.


John Dufresne, from his book, The Lie That Tells A Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction

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Sunday, August 14, 2016

A Ballad Of The French Fleet by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

OCTOBER, 1746

    MR. THOMAS PRINCE loquitur.

    A fleet with flags arrayed
        Sailed from the port of Brest,
    And the Admiral's ship displayed
        The signal: "Steer southwest."
    For this Admiral D'Anville
        Had sworn by cross and crown
    To ravage with fire and steel
        Our helpless Boston Town.

    There were rumors in the street,
        In the houses there was fear
    Of the coming of the fleet,
        And the danger hovering near.
    And while from mouth to mouth
        Spread the tidings of dismay,
    I stood in the Old South,
        Saying humbly: "Let us pray!

    "O Lord! we would not advise;
        But if in thy Providence
    A tempest should arise
        To drive the French fleet hence,
    And scatter it far and wide,
        Or sink it in the sea,
    We should be satisfied,
        And thine the glory be."

    This was the prayer I made,
        For my soul was all on flame,
    And even as I prayed
        The answering tempest came;
    It came with a mighty power,
        Shaking the windows and walls,
    And tolling the bell in the tower,
        As it tolls at funerals.

    The lightning suddenly
        Unsheathed its flaming sword,
    And I cried: "Stand still, and see
        The salvation of the Lord!"
    The heavens were black with cloud,
        The sea was white with hail,
    And ever more fierce and loud
        Blew the October gale.

    The fleet it overtook,
        And the broad sails in the van
    Like the tents of Cushan shook,
        Or the curtains of Midian.
    Down on the reeling decks
        Crashed the o'erwhelming seas;
    Ah, never were there wrecks
        So pitiful as these!

    Like a potter's vessel broke
        The great ships of the line;
    They were carried away as a smoke,
        Or sank like lead in the brine.
    O Lord! before thy path
        They vanished and ceased to be,
    When thou didst walk in wrath
        With thine horses through the sea!

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