Learning from the Masters

For years I’ve read texts on how to write a novel. Many came from Writers Digest selections on how to do everything from plotting to character development to pace to … you name the topic, I’ve probably got a book on how to do it.

By reading these how-to texts I learned how to write specific subjects but I was still confused on how to craft a novel en total.

Then the light went on (finally). If I want to learn how to write and write well, I need to read the masters in my field of interest. Currently those fields are mystery and suspense.  So … I rounded up every mystery/suspense novel I could find.

First I began with my own library filled with novels I’ve been collecting to read one of these days. That day arrived so I read them — all of them. Then I went to the Reader’s Digest Special Selections from my mother-in-law. (Thanks Essie.) These were good because the stories had been selected by a panel of editors. Sort of pre-selected, if you please.I figured that if the stories were good enough to be selected by these esteemed editors, then they were good enough for me to spend my time reading them. I was right. They were excellent.

After they were consumed, I started working with my local library. With so many authors to choose from, I didn’t know where to begin. I was confused. So I leaned on what I knew. Why not read an original version from one of the condensed books from Reader’s Digest. While I was grazed through the mystery/suspense section several authors names began looking familiar.

Since that day I’ve read too many authors to mention but a select few have taught me special techniques — readers techniques as well as writers techniques. For instance, Dean Koontz made me get a thicker dictionary while reading his novel Relentless. Usually I can figure out a word’s meaning based on its context but not Mr. Koontz’s work. He made me look ’em up. That’s OK, how else am I going to learn.

Tess Gerritsen, on the other hand, took my breath away throughout her story Gravity. Next time I read one of her books, I’m going to get a bigger pillow to sit on so I won’t have to take so many breaks. Or perhaps I should learn from her astronauts and wear Depends. I selected her because she wrote the Rizzoli and Isles TV series.

The tightest work came from Stephen J. Cannell. His Cold Hit has a magnificent pace, tight ending, and had well developed plot points. He set the bar on storytelling. Thank you, Mr. Cannell for the work you’ve given us. We will appreciate your gifts even more now that you’ve passed.

I’ve learned so much more about writing novels by reading them than by reading how-to text books. During the process of reading novels I discovered an inherent or implied learning by experiencing the novel.

The trick of learning is applying knowledge. Through the years I’ve learned that it’s easy to gain knowledge. The challenge is in applying that knowledge then expanding upon it. Taking that knowledge and making it your own by altering the rules to fit your creation is the process of experienced learning.

But that is just the first step.

I am now in the process of writing my apply-what-I’ve-learned novel. I’ll keep you posted.

4 thoughts on “Learning from the Masters

  1. Keith Yeung

    It’s always inspiring when we stumble upon good authors and fall in love with their works (mystery and suspense are my cup of tea as well). And I completely agree that we can learn so much by reading, but that we must also learn to apply that knowledge (something that I seem to be struggling with). I’m glade that you’ve taken that crucial first step. I wish you good luck!

  2. Ginger Wilson

    Pat, I loved your learning process. I have had many people tell me I should write a book. I am lucky if I get a chance to blog. I also live in the country and love that experience. I am excited to follow your progress as you dive into the depths of novel writing. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Ginger: Please do blog when you can. I like communicating with other country folks. I especially enjoy the photos. Do you have critters? We have goats, chickens, horses, dogs, and cats. I’m not counting the wildlife; they’re on their own anyway. Up load photo when you can.

  3. Pat, I found this piece to be well-written and loved learning what you learned. They say writers must not only write but must read, read, read. I also prefer mystery/suspense. Dean Koontz is my favorite author in that genre. I also like John Grisham and Iris Johansen.

    I look forward to hearing the progress of your novel. I’m working on one also. It’s in the fiction/para-normal genre. It started out as a short story, but the more the characters speak to me, the more they use me to tell their story. I’m having fun with it.

    Thanx for checking out my blog. And, as you can see, you do have a comments section on yours!

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