There are four aspects of the craft of writing that many who understand literature would argue have never been better addressed: Steinbeck’s perfection with dialogue, Faulkner’s depth of characterization, Hemingway’s precise narrative, and Fitzgerald’s palpable creation of mood.
One of the quickest ways to appreciate John Steinbeck’s brilliance in the realm of dialogue is to read TORTILLA FLAT, THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT, and OF MICE AND MEN. Accents are often hard to maintain in a novel without eventually grating on the reader, yet Steinbeck’s last line of dialogue in TORTILLA FLAT is as fresh as his first. THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT provides a perfect medium for demonstrating his range. And it is then a simple step to OF MICE AND MEN to gain an understanding of Steinbeck’s genius in the art of writing divergent dialogue at an extraordinary level.
The mere mention of William Faulkner can cause many to quail. But a lot of Faulkner aficionados, of which I am included in this group, feel he is unchallenged in the realm of characterization. (As an aside, if his work is broken down to the length of his clauses, it is often much easier to appreciate his talent.) Many erudite souls recommend ABSALOM, ABSALOM as an ideal example of why Faulkner rules the world of characterization, and one needs to read only the first paragraph in the initial chapter to realize the reason for this praise. Another suggestion is that serious writers read THE SOUND AND THE FURY. The characterization of Dilsey the maid is, in itself, a masterpiece.
Hemingway’s art is an example of elevating a single element of writing to such a high level that the weaker aspects of (his) prose can be ignored. With simple words his narratives were so powerful and his depictions so poignant that he is credited with creating a unique style. An efficient way to experience his skill is to read THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA. What is often overlooked about Hemingway’s crisp, concise style is the quality of pitch his technique enables. His passages of perfect pitch, in themselves, can be important to analyze by anyone desiring to become a better writer.
Mood like voice is one of those magical areas that is easy to recognize but impossible for a great many people to define. But whatever mood happens to be, it can be experienced in the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald. In THE GREAT GATSBY, THIS SIDE OF PARADISE, and TENDER IS THE NIGHT, there is an unmistakable mood that is so sentient the reader can easily (and pleasantly) become enveloped by it. A leading example is the opening paragraph in TENDER IS THE NIGHT, which sets the mood for the entirety of a story as well as any novel that comes to mind for many learned readers. Whatever Fitzgerald’s voice was, he found it. And whatever mood is, he created it with exceptional flair.
There are numerous other writing elements, and subcategories of each, that anyone serious about becoming a novelist must consider. But for those who desire an understanding of what many regard as the four pillars necessary for developing a proficiency in writing quality prose, especially if the interest is to be published by a major royalty publisher, it is difficult to argue against venturing into the oeuvres of Steinbeck, Faulkner, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald.
Robert L. Bacon is the Founder of The Perfect Write(TM) theperfectwrite.com
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