aprilhenry (aprilhenry) wrote,

Learn from the Masters

How do you get to be a good writer? The best way is to be a reader. It used to be that I didn't know why a book was good or bad. Then I got to the point where I could see why it was bad (unbelievable motivation, expository dialog, etc.), but a good book was still magic. Now I'm beginning to see why a book is good.

Take On Agate Hill, the latest book by the wonderful Lee Smith. Reading her makes it clear that my villains are too one-dimensional. For example, read this passage. The narrator is Molly, a wild 13-year-old orphan from a former high society family, and the book is set in the South after the Civil War at a falling down plantation. Molly is watching a tenant farmer's wife (the tenant farmer has run off), who would love to be Molly's uncle's second wife.

"But there in the gloom I spied Selena standing in front of the mirror, holding that white ruffled petticoat of Mammas up to her waist. While I watched she took a little step backward and bowed her head, like a curtsy. When the lightning flashed I could see her face which looked heartbroken to my surprise, sad and not mean for once though I know she is mean, she whipped Blanche and Victoria for going in the river, and would of whipped me too if she thought she could get away with it."

[Full disclosure: only an expert can get away with the grammatical and punctuation "mistakes" that underscore the narrator's youth.]

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