Mastering The Written Word

I want to Master the Written Word!

mastering the written word

Illustration by A. Skripin

Do you?

The idea of mastering the written word takes a lot of time and effort. My belief is that anyone – you, me, the guy down the street, that has an aspiration to be a great writer – must study the written word of others who have blazed a path before us.

I’m sure each  of us has our own plan of attack on achieving a level of success with our writing.

This has been my plan.

  1. I took online courses to make sure that I knew, understood, and implemented, the basic building blocks of good writing: punctuation, grammar, plot, dialog, etc.
  2. I began to volunteer (and become active) in various writing capacities around the internet. I wanted to learn from my peers. This effort resulted in landing me a position at Every Day Fiction as a slush reader. My experience there has been immeasurable in helping me grow as writer. I have learned from the mistakes and triumphs of other writers. Plus, I get to see first hand how real editors react to a story. I get to hear their ‘real’ thoughts; the thoughts that never make it into most rejection letters.
  3. I enter every contest that doesn’t try to take advantage of me as an aspiring writer. What does this mean? I don’t expect to pay an exorbitant entry fee. I don’t expect to give up my rights to my work. I don’t expect to have to keep my work in limbo for any longer than four months. Read the fine print on contests. The biggest career advancement (that I have achieved) through a contest entry was this – I placed 4th in a short story competition with Boroughs Publishing Group. As a result, they published my entry in E-book format. But that wasn’t the big deal as far as I was concerned. I got to work with a top-notch editor at Boroughs, for free. I learned the EXTREME value of a good editor to the final product (even a short story).
  4. I study the work of authors that I admire. And when I say study their work, I don’t mean that I just read their stories. I mean that I analyze their stories line by line. I look at every word. I try to figure out why their sentences, paragraphs, and ultimately their story move me so much. I’m especially attracted to writers from Latin America. They visualize the world and transfer it to the written word so eloquently. I don’t want to write just like them. But I want to incorporate their style into my writing. This is my goal.

Julio Cortazar

mastering the written word

Photograph by Modern Review.

Julio Cortazar is one of my favorite Latin American writers. If you haven’t read any of his works, I highly suggest that you read it, and study it.

To tantalize you a bit – I’m including one of his short stories, here today, in this blog.

The Continuity of the Parks

By Julio Cortazar

He had started reading the novel a few days before.  Urgent business made him abandon it for a time; but he returned to its pages while on his way back to the farmland estate.  He gradually let himself become interested in the plot, in the characters.  That evening, after writing a letter to his representative and discussing a matter of sharecropping, he took up the book again in the tranquility of his study which gazed out upon the park of oak trees.  As he lounged in his favorite chair with his back to the door that would have bothered him with the irritating potential for intrusions, he let his left hand stroke the green velvet once then again, and he began to read the final chapters.

His memory retained with no effort the names and appearances of the main characters, and so the novelist illusion came upon him almost immediately.  He took an almost perverse pleasure in letting himself tear through line after line of what surrounded him.  All at once he felt his head relaxing comfortably in the velvet of the old recliner, cigarettes persisting within reach of his hands, and, beyond the large windows, the evening air dancing below the oaks.  Word for word, absorbed by the heroes’ sordid dilemma, he cast himself adrift towards the images which concerted and acquired color and movement, evidence of the last meeting in the mountain cabin.  First the woman came in, mistrustful.  Then her lover arrived, his face hurt from the whiplash of a branch.  Admirably she clotted the blood with her kisses, but her caresses were rejected: he had not come to repeat the rituals of a secret passion protected by a world of dry leaves and furtive paths.  The dagger grew warm against his chest, and below beat cowering liberty.  A breathy dialog ran through the pages like a stream of serpents, which felt as if it had always been so.  Even as these caresses swirled around the lover’s body as if trying to hold him and dissuade him, they drew at the same time the abominable shape of another body which had to be destroyed.  Nothing had been forgotten: alibis, mishaps, possible mistakes.  From this hour forth, each moment would have its use, minutely detailed.  The merciless re−inspection was hardly interrupted for a hand to caress a cheek.  It began to get dark.

No longer looking, bound rigidly to the task which was awaiting them, they separated at the door of the cabin.  She had to follow the trail that led north.  From the opposite trail, he turned for a moment to watch her run with her hair flowing loosely.  He then ran in turn, taking shelter beneath the trees and hedges until, in the mallow mist of twilight, he was able to make out the avenue that led to the house.  The dogs were not supposed to bark; and they didn’t.  The majordomo (master of the house) would not be in at this hour; and he wasn’t.  He climbed the three stairs of the porch and went in.  In the blood swishing between his ears rang the words of the woman: first a blue room, then a gallery, then a carpeted staircase.  Upstairs, two doors.  No one would be in the first room, no one in the second.  The door of the living room, and then the dagger in his hand, the light of those large windows, the old recliner with green velvet seat, the head of a man reading a novel.

The End

What did you think of this story?

I love the way the words flow, the unusual use of description, and the hidden plot.

I would love to hear your thoughts! I would also love to hear what steps you’re taking to advance your writing career.

I am very opinionated about the craft of writing, and life in general. But… I am well-tempered with an enthusiasm for debate. Please leave comments, even the ugly ones, I dare you.

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11 thoughts on “Mastering The Written Word

  1. Well WOW. I seem to be at odds with everyone else here.
    Maybe he’s a fine wordsmith, BUT
    This is a prime example of not engaging the emotions of the reader.
    It is not even introspective, it is an overview of introspection, it is TELLING what the introspective character is thinking – which is one step even more remote than telling what the countryside looks like. (MOO = My Opinion Only)

    • I totally understand your feelings on that. Cortazar isn’t for everyone. He has a very open-ended style to his writing. It’s detailed, but he leaves a lot for the reader to construct in their own mind (including emotional attachment). What I like about his writing (and a good number of Latin American writers, actually) is their almost poetic use of words and description. Their sentences flow in a way that I don’t see in many North American writers.

  2. Your dare! My efforts.
    I greatly enjoyed the brief dialog. The man knows how to intrigue. Would that I could write prose to inflame as he. Aside, I have a need. My new book it ready for birthing. I need reviewers. Can you oblige?
    Regards,
    James M. Copeland

  3. Great work. But makes me fell like I gotta lot of work to do. Would you consider his work literary fiction. I like his quote in Paris Review (Yes, in these recent stories I have the feeling that there is less distance between what we call the fantastic and what we call the real. In my older stories, the distance was greater because the fantastic really was fantastic, and sometimes it touched on the supernatural)

  4. Wow, that is a damn good short story you posted! Loved it!

    I studied writing by looking at short stories. I sometimes feel that there are a lot of novels out there that would be greatly improved if the author had looked at focusing on the brevity of it instead of finding useless adverbs to toss in at every second word.

    Saying things in as few little words is an art that I’m still mastering (and it’s probably why my poems suck lol).

    • It is a great short story isn’t it. I’m telling you, every aspiring writer should study the works of Julio Cortazar. Even if you don’t like his style, his use of words is masterful.

  5. WOW! His words are soft on the mind like the green velvet on the old recliner. He is a true Master Wordsmith!

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