I think we would all like to imitate the phenomenal Indie success of such writers as Sci Fi author Hugh Howie, or Amanda Hocking who writes paranormal fiction. Then there’s the immortal types of books — the ones that will be read for generations to come. One treasure I have recently happened upon is author James Herriot. His books, memoirs actually, are based on his country veterinarian experiences. All brilliantly descriptive and entertainingly witty., I can hardly put them down. In fact, now I’m studying his writing techniques through rereading and note-taking.
I want to write like that!
All Creatures Great and Small, for example — I hardly ever read First Person POV, but this author just has a way of conversing with the reader. His wordplay speaks to the senses: sight, smell, taste…and tickle bone.
It’s 1937 and factories abound. He’s finally graduated from veterinary college and is on his way for an interview in the country: “The confinement of the city, the grime, the smoke — already they seemed to be falling away from me,” he writes.
What an environment he’s leaving behind! Are you holding your breath? Can you imagine the sense of escape and relief?
And then he arrives at his rural destination: “There was a clarity in the air, a sense of space and airiness that made me feel I had shed something on the plain, twenty miles behind.”
Now you’re breathing in the clean fresh air.
Off to work he goes. There’s this annoying old man who rambles on about how a more superior veterinarian he knows would better attend this suffering cow in the midst of a difficult birthing: “‘Now then, young man,” he cried in the nasal twang of the west…” etc.
James (the new veterinarian in town) needs a hand and gives direction to the farmers standing by to pull a rope when he tells them. At the same time, the old man disagrees and still seated on his straw bale perch proceeds to espouse what a better, more superior but unschooled animal tender he knows would do in a similar situation.
In that moment it becomes clear to James that he has suffered enough of the man’s verbal abuse, but rather than address the old man directly, he puts the farmers standing by to instant task when he bellows: “Pull on the bloody head-rope, I tell you!” Which makes him feel immediately better when the old man, obviously offended, retires his tongue.
It’s a book full of novel dialogue, description, and emotion. If you love animals, you learn a lot, laugh at the ludicrous, and are deeply touched by tender observations of human and beast.
That’s what I”m missing in my own writing. The stuff that speaks to the senses — makes you feel and hear and see what’s going on.
I have a steno pad I call “How Do You Say?” with rudimentary tabs for emotions, environment, weather, etc. As I take a second journey through James Harriet’s books, I’m jotting down some phrases because I want to learn. It’s how I want to write — the gift I, too, long to give to my readers. Never to plagiarize, of course, but to help me sort out my own way to express what I want to say, I enter snippets of dialogue that makes me pause with admiration or delights me with its colorful description.
Indeed, I think we writers have much to glean from our author predecessors.
And from what I’m seeing while delving into the old greats, perfect grammar be hanged! If it makes the story better, don’t be so afraid to break some rules. I think writing a great story is what we should be brave enough to pursue without concern for what grade an English teacher — or our neighbor, may grant us in their opinion.
Be encouraged — in the end, your beta readers and editor will help you clean it up…so long as you’re willing to take that next brave step and reveal your work to others who want to help you.