How to Write Like Tolstoy

How to Write Like Tolstoy

A Journey Into the Minds of Our Greatest Writers

Book - 2016
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"Behind every acclaimed work of literature is a trove of heartfelt decisions. The best authors put painstaking—sometimes obsessive—effort into each element of their stories, from plot and character development to dialogue and point of view. What made Nabokov choose the name Lolita? Why did Fitzgerald use first-person narration in The Great Gatsby? How did Kerouac, who raged against revision, finally come to revise On the Road? Veteran editor and teacher Richard Cohen draws on his vast reservoir of a lifetime’s reading and his insight into what makes good prose soar. Here are Gabriel García Márquez’s thoughts on how to start a novel (“In the first paragraph you solve most of the problems with your book”); Virginia Woolf offering her definition of style (“It is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can’t use the wrong words”); and Vladimir Nabokov on the nature of fiction (“All great novels are great fairy tales”). Cohen has researched the published works and private utterances of our greatest authors to discover the elements that made their prose memorable. The result is a unique exploration of the act and art of writing that enriches our experience of reading both the classics and the best modern fiction. Evoking the marvelous, the famous, and the irreverent, he reveals the challenges that even the greatest writers faced—and shows us how they surmounted them."--Provided by the publisher.
Publisher: New York :, Random House,, 2016
Copyright Date: ©2016
ISBN: 9780812998306
Characteristics: xx, 323 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm


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Dec 29, 2017

I had a similar reaction to another reviewer: He covers the usual bases, but doesn't do much to elaborate much on anything. Yet the author doesn't do more with most of than present examples -- pro and con -- with very brief discussions. There's no "operational" advice -- stuff the aspiring writer can put into practice. Or I missed it if there were.

And, overall, I think at this stage anyone who's read a few books on the craft knows to read the masters and also read a lot -- both in one's specialty (if one has one) and out of it. I felt he should've done more to say how a writer might spot and work on the various areas -- rather than piling on examples and anecdotes. (The examples were good and the anecdotes were fun, but I wanted more.)

By the way, I liked that he brought up rhythm, irony, and sex scenes -- else this would be just another Writing 101 book -- or maybe writing 201. I believe it's good to get beyond the same old laundry list -- character, plot, setting, point-of-view -- that literally hundreds of other writing books cover. (Granted, I've only read a few, but I've skimmed enough to see it's hard to come up with much fresh to say about plot or point-of-view.)

May 10, 2017

Relatively brief, but very fluidly written chapters, though with a lot of gossipy bits and bragging that were more annoying as the book progressed. All of the main elements are covered: point of view, plot, characters, and most importantly, rewriting, which is given two chapters. The worst chapter is on style and rhythm because it doesn't do much to explain it and develop it, but it gives a great footnote to Lucas' "Style" which is available on archive dot org.

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