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Mar
23
2015

Don't you wish you could write like... -- by Pat Thompson

By    P.A.Thompson

Here is something I just realized...

A few weeks ago, maybe longer, I had hit a reading roadblock.  I'd become really difficult to please in my reading choices, nothing new I picked up was any good.  Too many writing 'rules' broken to allow me to enjoy the stories.  And by 'rules broken' I mean bumps in the reading that would toss me out of the story and cause me to analyze the writing.  It didn't always break rules, but caused a problem with my reading flow.

So, I went back to my boxes of books that I had brought with me when we moved four years ago.  I think I have mentioned reading the first twenty 'Spenser' books by Robert Parker.  Besides being fun reading, I was curious to see how the Spenser character had developed as the series progressed.  When I ran out of Spenser books, and the library couldn't fill in the gaps, I delved back into my boxes and came up with this series:

The Matthew Scudder series, by Lawrence Block

A detective type series of books I read way back when, 20+ years ago. Now, because of running into a wall, head first and at full speed, my memory is oddly gapped at times.  I don't remember a lot of details from my first reading of these books, details about the cases he's working on, but I do remember more details about the main character (MC), Matt Scudder.  And I remember why I wanted to read these books again - the last paragraph of the fifth book, 'Eight Million Ways to Die'.

A summary of the MC:  Matt Scudder is an ex-cop. He left the force, by choice, when he shot two men who had robbed the bar where he was drinking.  They killed the bartender and Matt shot them as they ran away down the street.  He may or may not have had too much to drink. But one of his shots ricocheted and killed a seven year old girl. He was cleared and commendated for his actions, but it ruined his life.  

He quit his job, left his wife and two boys, moved into a hotel room, and tried to drink himself to death on an almost daily basis. He works as an unofficial private investigator, not licensed, he does favors for people and they give him gifts (money).

So, going back to my opening sentence, I realized that I read five books just to get to the last paragraph of that fifth book.  It had hit me that hard when I first read it. I wanted to read each of the books leading up to that paragraph to study how the character was written.  What made that paragraph hit me so hard? The overall writing is good, the stories are good, but it's the character study that brought me back.

I want to write like THAT.  I want to write characters that draw readers in. Love them or hate them, I want the reader to care and be drawn to them somehow.  Matt Scudder is not a likeable person, the way he is now.  He had some good qualities but he is SO flawed.

I'm still driven by character driven stories, like I said in an earlier post here.

What drives your writing?


Oh, a quote from the author, Lawrence Block:

I started writing about Matthew Scudder in the mid-1970s, and it’s been a great pleasure watching him grow and evolve over the years. An aspect of the realism of the series is that Scudder has aged in real time; he’s forty years older than he was when I started chronicling his fictive existence. If I have one piece of advice for y’all, it’s this: Don’t age in real time. I’m talking about you, not your characters. Slow down. What’s the damn hurry?

Posted by Pat Thompson 23 Mar 2015 at 03:20
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Responses to this blog

Sac 23 Mar 2015 at 09:10  
That sounds an awful lot like "A Walk Among The Tombstones".
Sac 23 Mar 2015 at 09:12  
Ah, turns out if WAS Tombstones. Go figure.
Edwardra3 23 Mar 2015 at 10:50  
I don't know of anyone that I want to write like. I grew up on the greats of science fiction: Asimov, Heinlien, Herbert, Bradbury, Bova. I enjoy all of their work. Asimov, in particular, I've read all of his novel-length work twice. They've indluenced my philosophy and my desire to write. But while my WIP was inspired by Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, my voice isn't anything like any of theirs. I don't want to write like them. I want to write like me.
Rellrod 23 Mar 2015 at 18:53  
I'm in somewhat the same position as Edwardra3, having grown up with the classic SF writers.

My model for writing is Heinlein. [That is, the early and middle-period Heinlein, not the late and rather rambling Heinlein.] Clear, lucid, nothing that distracts you from the story — the writing communicates almost transparently. Yet it's infinitely rereadable and, once you stop and look at it, consistently witty and illuminating. If I could do that . . . Of course it'll necessarily be in my own voice too; but it's still helpful to have a target to aim at.

My more modern model is Lois McMaster Bujold. She too gets a story across without histrionics or melodrama. But her sly humor adds a unique note. Again, I figure if I can accomplish anything like those books, I'll have added something worthwhile to the world.

Rick
Alexmcg 23 Mar 2015 at 20:35  
I would love to be able to write like myself, but with some grammatical sense.

I read way too many authors to pick one to be 'like' perhaps Guy Gavriel Kay for fantasy, though Kristin Cashore is brilliant too. For humour, I'm thinking the love child of P.G. Woodhouse and Douglas Adams. Thriller might be Ian Rankin, the Edinburgh police (sort of procedural) writer. I have to mention Charles de Lint for urban fantasy, though I haven't done much with that yet.
__________________
All your character needs to do is to do what they do. The reader will fill in the rest.

Patoooo 23 Mar 2015 at 20:40  
I want to write like somebody that affects the reader. It doesn't have to be anyone in particular.
Imagine having somebody re-read five of your books, just to study (feel) the character development you've done. How would that feel?
Demonqueen 24 Mar 2015 at 09:37  
Somebody once asked me who I wanted to write like, who were my mentors, or heroes (words to that effect). My reply was: I want to write like me, not someone else.

Do I want to be able to provoke certain emotions and affect in my (future) readers like some of the authors I've read? Hell, yeah!

I think this leads onto a bigger question, though. Or maybe I should say we should look at it differently. Are we really asking who we want to write like, or are we asking if we recognise our own writing weaknesses by reading others and see the need to tackle and overcome them?
Sac 24 Mar 2015 at 10:53  
One day, I want aspiring authors to be like— "I wish I could write like Sac(totally not my real name)".
Tylermarab 24 Mar 2015 at 11:59  
Description wise, I want to write like Oscar Wilde, even though his style was ornate and would be frown upon today as "flowery" and "purple prose."

Theme wise, I want to write like Victor Hugo. I write children's book, so I also favor Spinelli when it comes to themes.

Plot wise, probably Agatha Christie; I even liked Roth's plot in Divergent.

I'd like to comment on something you said: I'd become really difficult to please in my reading choices, nothing new I picked up was any good. Too many writing 'rules' broken to allow me to enjoy the stories.

If you knew nothing about these rules would you still have the same opinion of the stories you put down? I think the casual reader knows nothing of these so called "rules" but readers intuitively know what's good or bad writing, even if he/she doesn't write.
Margotg 24 Mar 2015 at 12:48  
It's the author's voice that draws me in first. If I like that, I have the patience to wait and learn about the characters and the plot. If I don't like the author's voice, it doesn't matter what the characters do.

I often pull out older books just for the pleasure of enjoying again that certain cadence/word choice/sentence structure, whatever it is, that so clearly differentiates one author from another. I'm also surprised when an author, whose voice I love, starts a different series using a voice I don't recognize. I'd settle for writing in one consistently distinctive voice.
Dorothea 27 Mar 2015 at 11:42  
When I first read Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage last fall, he inspired me to write. I wanted to emulate his wonderful way he created broken characters with real human struggles. That's my greatest aspiration. To write books that have strong, real, human characters who struggle and overcome, being transformed little by little throughout the story. I have yet to learn how to do that or apply it. It's very hard for me...I've only picked up writing after nearly 20 years of no writing just last fall. Maybe some day...
Kusterer 27 Mar 2015 at 13:37  
Loren D. Estleman, Donald E. Westlake (especially writing as Richard Stark), Robert Parker, Elmore Leonard, Steve Hamilton, John D. MacDonald, ... Snappy dialogue, fascinating characters, a larger theme.
Lowlywizrd 28 Mar 2015 at 05:08  
I really have no idea who I want to write as, mostly because I'm young (Turning fifteen this year), and haven't had the chance to really indulge myself in books due to 'technology' and other teenage dramas between other people that I try to settle for months on end. I also have school, which will introduce me to popular series of plays, none of which I truly to my liking. They presented me with 'The Hunger Games' by Suzanne Collins and 'Worldshaker' by Richard Harland, both books I enjoyed but didn't entirely feel much from. 'Worldshaker' tried to write fight scenes, but they made me cringe and, well, The Hunger Games...I'd accidently seen the movie before reading the book series so I just always imagined adults instead of 'squishy' faced teenagers. Thus, I haven't really had a writer to look up too.

I'm going to say that I'd like my writing to be character driven. I don't care what the plot is, as long as its decent, but if you can put in incredible and unforgettable characters, then I find it to be a good book. That's what I want my stories to be, about characters who will resonate with the reader, as they should.
Imjustdru 28 Mar 2015 at 09:01  
I'm on the same boat here. I mentioned how Kurt Busiek, Fabian Nicieza, and Patricia Briggs have influenced me as a writer. Busiek is at the top because of the stories he wants to tell, like The Autumnlands: Tooth & Claw and Astro City. Plus, his run on Marvel's Thunderbolts (1997-1999; #1-33) and Iron Man (1997-1999; #1-25) were entertaining which made me want to write like him.
Susieq 29 Mar 2015 at 04:09  
I haven't read the books, but Eight Million Ways to Die was made into a movie years ago. Jeff Bridges played Scudder. I don't know how the movie compares to the book, but I agree Scudder was an interesting, flawed character.

I wish you'd shared that last paragraph with us.
Danafive 29 Mar 2015 at 12:30  
I think a point is being missed. Its not the author, or the style, its the impact. I have 2 books I have carted around for 30 years or more and reread when im bored with authors.
Marrion Zimmer Bradleys Mists of Avalon.
Beatris Small The Kadin.
Neither are my current favorite style of read, but I keep going back.
Sheridan 14 Jan 2016 at 14:30  
I've been away from CC for months, and am just catching up, so this is a very late post, LOL, but loved what you had to say! And I totally identify with your reaching a point of 'being difficult to please' — it stems from being a voracious reader for 40+ years, and gradually developing a taste for top-notch writing and stories. I want plot, great characterization, thrilling tension and tight pace (doesn't have to be stuff constantly blowing up), and strong writing. That is a tall order, but man, do I appreciate it when a writer delivers!!! I write multiple reviews, I tell all my friends, I praise them on all my social media outlets — even for stories that I stumble across 10+ years after they've been published.

From what you wrote, you like thrillers and mysteries, too. Here are my top fave three authors that I've only recently stumbled across, and I can guarantee you will be enthralled: John Hart (he's only written four, much to my dismay), Gregg Hurwitz, Joseph Finder. Of course, I have many more, but most are 'commonly popular', so you've likely read them. I haven't read any of Lawrence Block's work, so will have to check it out, especially Book #5.

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