How To Read Like A Writer

You’ll need a book you want to read, a highlighter pen, and some stick on arrows like you see on legal documents that say: sign here.

Here’s what you mark up in the book:
l. Words, phrases, sentences you admire. That gave you a gut reaction.
2. Words that gave you an emotional hit.  How did that author do that?
3. Plot points; characters made interesting; how?
4. Story points that pull in the reader.

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More From the Bureau of published bad writing

Thog’s Masterclass

Please add your own in the comments below.

Neat Tricks

  • ‘Alex’s snub-nosed face sagged open. His blue eyes revolved incredulously.’ (Paul Anderson & Gordon R. Dickson, ‘Heroes are Made’ aka ‘The Sheriff of Canyon Gulch’, May 1951 Other Worlds Science Stories)
  • ‘Huddled on the armchair where he’d sat to read until late last night, Helenka was embracing her retracted knees.’
  • ‘Her anguish could be perceived only by the way her lips tightened in a peristaltic pucker.’ (both Ben Pastor, Lumen, 1999)


Eyeballs in the Sky

  • ‘For a few seconds, behind Torstad’s eyes, something rattled its chains.’ (Poul Anderson, There Will Be Time, 1973)
  • ‘Jim stared with all his eyes.’ (Isabel Ostrander, Anything Once, 1920)


Digital Commerce Dept

  • ‘Daniel sat back, steepling his long fingers across his waistcoat. He bought them from a little shop in Brixton Market.’ (Paul McAuley, Something Coming Through, 2015)


Dept of But Can They Hear You Scream?

  • ‘No one escapes from the imperial navy any more than they do from the mines of Evron. But at least in space I can breathe …’ (E.E. Smith and Gordon Eklund, Lord Tedric, 1978)

Find More

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Writers of Kern Spring Conference Saturday, April 25  

10:35 – 11:35 AM Toni will speak on “Mastering  Editing  Skills”  Techniques  that  help  the  writer  learn  the  all  important  skill  of  self-editing:  Avoid  The 10 Most Common Mistakes First Novelists Make. Insights you’ve not heard  before from an agent.
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Bureau of published bad writing

Thog’s Masterclass

Dept of Punchy Opening Lines.
‘At first there was only the cold, the Stygian inky iciness that held every muscle of his body in thrall and made his thoughts flow with the turgid slowness of treacly molasses.’ (Wilbur S. Peacock, ‘Spider-Men of Gharr’, Summer 1945 Planet Stories)

Quickness of the Hand Dept.
‘… he laughed, and before I could stop him, stroked my face with the speed of light.’ (Debbie Johnson, Dark Vision, 2014)

Neat Tricks.
‘He stood tall, in fact even taller than he usually was.’ (Ibid)

Like a Huge Springing Beast Dept.
‘The redhead springs deep and soars through the air. Flying like a spread-eagled amoeba …’ (Kieran Shea, Koko Takes a Holiday, 2014)

Dept of Useful Add-Ons.
‘He rose to his spare elbows.’ (Charles E. Gannon, Fire with Fire, 2013) [AL]

Shock of Hair Dept.
‘His ginger hair with its generous dashes of grey sat on his head like an electrified cat.’ (J.D. Robb [Nora Roberts], Strangers in Death, 2008)

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Elizabeth Gilbert on Writing

“When I was in the middle of writing Eat Pray Love and I fell into one of those pits of despair that we will fall into when we’re working on something that’s not coming and we think ‘this is going to be a disaster, this is going to be the worst book I’ve ever written — not just that but the worst book ever written … So I just lifted my face up from the manuscript and I directed my comments to an empty corner of the room and I said aloud ‘ Listen you, thing! You and I both know that if this book isn’t brilliant that is not entirely my fault, right? Because you can see I am putting everything I have into this, I don’t have any more than this, so if you want it to be better then you’ve got to show up and do your part of the deal, OK? But you know what? If you don’t do that then I’m going to keep writing because that’s my job and I would please like the record to reflect today that I showed up and did my part of the job!” – Elizabeth Gilbert, author Eat Pray Love

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Why We Write Memoirs

Writing our own stories helps us see the narrative thread in our lives, reflect on the consequences of events and maybe find redemption or closure. Life stories, memoirs, autobiographies — whatever term we use–have been wildly popular for the past twenty to thirty years.  In the 1990’s Frank McCourt‘s Angela’s Ashes and Mary Karr‘s The Liar’s Club, among others, sparked an enthusiastic response among readers that has yet to subside. Memoirs have elbowed their way into book discussion groups. Issues of truthfulness in memoirs have become front page and talk show news. Reality TV shows and social networking sites on the Internet, blogs, oral history organizations like StoryCorps, and an explosion of information sources about the life of celebrities, proclaim our fascination with this genre. The most popular nonfiction has a personal aspect to it. Popular histories focus on the role of the individual, self-help books reveal the struggles of the author, and true crime is always popular. Cookbooks are filled with personal stories about the cook and her family.

The best memoirs are shaped like novels:  with a beginning, full of exposition and character development; a middle, often with climactic events; and an ending that ties up what came before with a satisfying resolution. We know that in fiction, the writer has used memory, experience, imagination, and all the tools of creative writing. What we must know is that memoir writers make use of the same creative toolkit.

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Sun, Nov 2: Master The Skills Needed To Write Your First Novel with Toni & Shelly

Full Day Workshop

Master The Skills Needed To Write Your First Novel

9 am to 5 pm with a one-hour lunch break

For this full-day interactive Master Class, please bring the first chapter of your novel, or at least 6 pages, as well as a one-page  synopsis.  Email the chapter to Toni ( well before the conference to receive a chance to revise before the class.  Be sure to double-space.  (tip: Single spacing brands you an amateur).
Editors in New York publishing houses tell literary agent Toni Lopopolo:

  • I’m looking for well-written, vivid, voice-driven books, in the adult, young adult, new adult, and narrative non-fiction books.”   
  • “I’m always in search of the next big voice in Romance.”
  • “—a distinct, compelling authorial voice, and a strong narrative.”
  • “I look for solid, voice-driven writing that makes the author stand out from the pack.”

This can’t be said too often: To impress a publisher enough to receive a contract for a novel, no matter the genre, a writer must know what skills he/she needs, then must master those skills.  Guaranteed to raise your present skills several levels, this Master Class will help any writer learn:

  • The importance of voice
  • The importance of story
  • The importance of your main character(s)
  • Why dialogue is not conversation
  • Conventions of style vs “rules”
  • The difference between story & plot
  • The importance of eccentricity in your characters
  • Ratio of narration to scenes
  • The golden rules of writing scenes
  • Rate of revelation
  • How to stay out of your own story! (author intervention)
  • How & Why to choose the best point of view for your novel
  • Why you must learn to cut; to kill your darlings
  • Your habit words
  • The secrets of verbs
  • The 20 terrible words
  • How to avoid the 10 Most Common Mistakes
  • How to read as a writer
  • How to create an irresistible storyline pitch
  • The best books to own on fiction writing (see below)
  • The importance of defining and reading your genre
  • How and when to approach an agent
  • The importance of a professional editor
  • Why action beats narration
  • What’s best for you: big publisher, small publisher, self-publisher

During this Master Class, you will be given short assignments and the time to complete them. Come prepared.

Get the books needed early from Amazon:

  1. Stein On Writing by Sol Stein
  2. Self-Editing For Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
  3. The Fiction Writer’s Handbook by Shelly Lowenkopf

Bring these books with you.

<em “mso-bidi-font-style:=”” normal”=””>About the instructors…
Toni Lopopolo spent 20 years in New York City publishing, then took her street creds to open her literary agent in 1991.  Toni served as executive editor at Macmillan, then St Martin’s Press. As an acquiring editor, Toni reviewed the best projects sent to her by agents.  But as a new literary agent, Toni realized, by what writers sent to her agency as “finished” manuscripts, that most writers who approached her to represent them had not mastered the skills required. To impress a publisher enough to receive a contract on a first novel, a writer must know what skills he/she needs, then master those skills.  Toni, in her capacity as an editor, writing instructor, and literary agent, developed methods to help writers learn those skills, practice those skills, and, master them.

No wonder students flock to Shelly Lowenkopf’s classes and well-published professionals come to him now for consults.  He spent most of his years in the working side of publishing as a “shirt-sleeves” editor, acquiring and developing genre, mainstream, and literary fiction as well as dramatic biography and theme-based nonfiction inquiry.  A versatile and ambitious writer as well, Shelly’s editorial skills reflect both sides of the desk.  His years of leading students to publishing contracts makes him an ideal other voice for Toni Lopopolo in demonstrating these necessary steps to significant and continued publication.

Direct quotes from some of Shelly’s student evaluations:

“This course, [Reading Like a Writer]  “ led me to publication.”

“I wish I’d had this course [<em “mso-bidi-font-style:=”” normal”=””>Developing a Literary Voice]a long time ago.”

“There are introductions to writing and there is Shelly’s Introduction to Publication.”


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