2010 © by Robert J Ray and Jack Remick
How to Read like a Writer ~ Part Three
Word-pictures: the language of fiction is word-pictures. To make word-pictures, writers combine strong verbs and concrete nouns. If the novel reads fast, that means there are tons of word-pictures. When you read for entertainment, you might not have paid attention to the language. Now when you analyze style, you should pick 8-10 passages from beginning, middle and end of the novel. In each passage look at Verbs and Nouns. Strong Verbs and Concrete Nouns create word pictures.
- Verbs: What is the ratio of strong verbs to weak verbs? Definition: four kinds of weak verbs: interiors like know, wonder, assume; subjunctive compounds like would know, should have known, could have known if only; infinitives like to know is to wonder; to assume is to assimilate; and passive voice verbs which switch the subject of a sentence to the position of object: the ball was thrown by the boy who was considered by the fans who perhaps might become, if the ball continued to be thrown in that manner, one of those who might possibly assume a position in the pantheon of the….on and on, while the word-pictures fade and the reader retreats to TV or I-Pod.
- Nouns: What is the ratio of concrete nouns to abstract nouns? A concrete noun gets at you through sense perception. Can you see it? Smell it? Touch it? Hear it? Is it hot or cold? Round or square? Smooth or rough? There are three classes of concrete nouns for good writing: objects, body parts, and landmarks. Objects are like Cinderella’s slipper or the English Patient’s book. Body parts are hands, feet, thighs, eyes, teeth. Landmarks are visible and too big to move: house, castle, cave, mountain, jungle. Abstract nouns are Latinate: assimilation, conflagration, contamination, interdiction. When you load up your writing with a lot of abstract nouns, the story floats just before it sinks into oblivion.
- Syntax: The key to good syntax is subject-verb-object. The key to powerful syntax is repetition. The easy way to understand the power of repetition is to check out the rhetorical patterns passed down from Greek. See Writing with Clarity and Style or for some examples of usable rhetorical patterns like asyndeton, polysyndeton, and anaphora, check out the chapter called Operation Ratio, beginning on page 225 of The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel.
If you take the time to analyze your novel—or other novels—we would like to see your analysis in a post.
Bob and Jack