Friday, May 18, 2007

Learning from Literature

As I'm writing my second IRA proposal on "Show Don't Tell: How Creating a Genre Setting Enhances Reading Instruction" I am once again thinking about how I have learned to be a writer because I am a life-long reader. Lots of time writers give the same advice as I do, "If you want to write, read." But what should an adult or young adult be looking for when she reads? How do novels or short stories become writing textbooks?

When I read (or listen to an audio book) I look for the following:

  1. How has the author created realistic dialogue? How do the characters' voices stay consistent through the story?
  2. For that matter, how does the character himself stay consistent through the story through his reactions, emotions, and thought patterns?
  3. How does the author use similes or metaphors to help me picture the character or setting? Is the text heavy with figurative language or is there enough of this spice thrown into the mix to enhance the story?

For young adults, two examples of consistent characters and settings in imaginative, well-written fantasy books are Cornelia Funke's books Inkheart and Inkspell.

These principles can be applied to creative nonfiction as well as to fiction. My first "official" creative nonfiction book that I read was Susan Orlean's book, "The Bullfighter Checks her Makeup." (For homeschooling parents: You might want to read this first before recommending it to your children.) Orlean has a magnificent grasp of language and tells stories through her nonfiction essays.

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