Have you ever noticed how all the books which tell you how to write great novels ware written by people you've never heard of, and who've never had a best-seller? Even if they had, it doesn't mean they can show you how to emulate their success.
his was another Audiobook. This time it was non-fiction. It was read, a little stridently I thought, by Nanette Savard, whose voice I don't feel I can recommend, but that was less important to me on this occasion than the content, which was about how to read a book from a writer's perspective so you can learn how to write...like a reader? I'm kidding. I like this idea in theory because reading a lot is a good way to equip yourself with writerly tools, but the question is what kind of a writer do you want to be? Francine Prose (great name for an author of a book about writing, right?) repeatedly neglects to ask this question as she fails to ask many others, and for me that was why this book is a huge fail.
Francine Prose is (amusingly to me) a Visiting Professor of Literature at Bard College. I don't know how often she visits, but it would seem that she has all the tools: her name is Prose and she teaches at a college named Bard for goodness sakes! Her book progresses from words to sentences to paragraphs, which was about halfway through and where I gave up on it as a bad job. I wasn't learning anything useful to me, and most of what she said was painfully self-evident. You'd have to be an idiot not to know it already if you're a prospective a writer.
he teaching method is to constantly refer us, the listeners in this case, back to classic novels of yesteryear, as though no modern novel has anything to tell us. I found this peculiar, but I have to confess I'm not a huge fan, nor a big respecter of the so-called classics. I don't get why schools insist upon inflicting these on children. It seems to me to be a self-fulfilling prophecy: that they're classics because the schools teach them and the schools teach them because they're classics.
Obviously it's a mite more complex than that, but even so, that pretty much sums it up. Very few of these 'classic' authors were loved in their lifetime. Like many artists, many of them died in poverty or near obscurity. It's only with the sorry patina of age that the stories they told became 'classics', and I have to wonder whether that was because they were so brilliantly written or more likely, simply because they evoke a bygone age and perhaps do it a tad better than some of their contemporaries. Just because a person does something a little better than someone else doesn't mean they're a paragon! The title genius and hero are squandered far too cheaply in this age of superlatives and soundbites, to the point where they've become practically meaningless.
The author's apparent position is that these antique authors agonized over every word and were heroically genius in their brevity and communications abilities, but to me their work seemed ordinary and no different form what modern authors are doing. My main beef is that all of her prognostication is done in hindsight after these works have been pored over so much by scholars who apparently have nothing better to do with their time, that the very words have been leached (or even leeched!) of all color and meaning. Worse, no-one ever asked the authors of these obsolete opera how they wrote or why they wrote in that way.
It occurs to me that if we could go back and ask them, they'd simply tell us that they wrote what they wrote and didn't sweat it; although they probably wouldn't use that exact phrase! I know some authors did and do agonize over every word, but they're morons. This is where the author's lack of insight shone so brightly. She seems to be laboring under the misapprehension that every writer wannabe out there wants to create clones of these 'classic' works, but few do. If you take a look at Wikipedia's list of best selling novels, very few of the writers Prose mentions are in it, at least not near the top. The ones who are up there are the ones who explicitly did not clone the classics.
I know there are many pretentious writers who desire to transmogrify themselves into wan duplicates of their idolized forbears, but most writers simply want to make a living through writing, and in this era you're not going to do that via writing classic literature. The way to accomplish that goal these days is to get a best seller. Even one best seller will set you up for life. Very few people want to write literature and those who do are doomed to make a poor living at best. Prose doesn't seem to grasp that.
All that most modern writers are interested in is writing cheap romance, paranormal romance, thrillers, whodunnits and YA. They don't care about great writing and neither do their readers. For better or for worse that's the way it is, and Prose teaching her readers and students to clone earlier authors isn't going to cut it, because it's not the people who clone the work of others who have the big success, it's the people who are willing to step out from the crowd and plow their own furrow who get the attention: people like JK Rowling and Suzanne Collins for example.
For this reason I cannot recommend this book. I don't think it serves any purpose. The only way to succeed is to familiarize yourself with the genre(s) you wish to write in, and then write, write, write and never give up!