By: Jilian Whitehead
You’ve probably done something like this before in class, such as taking a passage from literature or poetry and analyzing the author’s word usage and the broader themes. Essentially, it means a lot of mark-up. Why did the author choose to use that word there? How does that line connect with the next? What does the overall tone say about the piece? And so on.
In this exercise, you take a passage from your favorite book or poem, follow the structure of their sentences, and then substitute your own words into it. For example, if the line is, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog,” then you would note that the first word is an article, the second and third adjectives, the fourth a noun, etc. You would then keep these classes, but put in your own words. So, you’d end up with something like: “A thick red book lies across the short desk.” This exercise is useful in not only familiarizing yourself with other authors’ styles, but also learning about the craft of words and how each plays a critical role in the sentence.
Here, the goal is simply to rewrite out a work you admire, word for word. You might’ve done this for memorization of vocabulary words and definitions before. Handwriting is thought to be better than typing, but either works. Poems have the advantage of being short, and if you try rewriting a novel, I applaud you. I actually have heard of an author who completely copied his three favorite novels. Three novels! It sounds like a ton of work, and I don’t know if my fingers could handle that, but I’m sure it would be a wonderful exercise (or more like a marathon). If you do this, you wouldn’t only be seeing a snapshot of the work, but learning how the author structures their story as a whole, such as where they decide to use dialogue and where they use summary. This is also useful in noticing punctuation and grammar. While most books won’t be written in a universal style, there are definitely rules that every published piece will adhere to. Instead of trying to learn from a textbook, this can be a great way to see all those annoying commas in action.
These time-consuming workouts seem daunting at first, but if you’re serious about craft, then try these out. While your hands might regret it, I’m sure your writing will thank you. Just remember to take lots of breaks!