How to Write Like Tolstoy

How to Write Like Tolstoy

A Journey Into the Minds of Our Greatest Writers

Book - 2016
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Random House, Inc.
For anyone who has ever identified with a hero or heroine, been seduced by a strong opening sentence, or been powerfully moved by a story’s end, How to Write Like Tolstoy is a thought-provoking journey inside the minds of the world’s most accomplished storytellers, from Shakespeare to Stephen King.

“I have tried, as far as possible using the words of the authors themselves, to explain their craft, aiming to take readers on a journey into the concerns, techniques, tricks, flaws, and, occasionally, obsessions of our most luminous writers.”—from the Preface

Behind every acclaimed work of literature is a trove of heartfelt decisions. The best authors put painstaking—sometimes obsessive—effort into each element of their stories, from plot and character development to dialogue and point of view.

What made Nabokov choose the name Lolita? Why did Fitzgerald use first-person narration in The Great Gatsby? How did Kerouac, who raged against revision, finally come to revise On the Road? Veteran editor and teacher Richard Cohen draws on his vast reservoir of a lifetime’s reading and his insight into what makes good prose soar. Here are Gabriel García Márquez’s thoughts on how to start a novel (“In the first paragraph you solve most of the problems with your book”); Virginia Woolf offering her definition of style (“It is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can’t use the wrong words”); and Vladimir Nabokov on the nature of fiction (“All great novels are great fairy tales”).

Cohen has researched the published works and private utterances of our greatest authors to discover the elements that made their prose memorable. The result is a unique exploration of the act and art of writing that enriches our experience of reading both the classics and the best modern fiction. Evoking the marvelous, the famous, and the irreverent, he reveals the challenges that even the greatest writers faced—and shows us how they surmounted them.

Praise for How to Write Like Tolstoy

“The highest compliment one can pay How to Write Like Tolstoy is that it provokes an overwhelming urge to read and write, to be in dialogue or even doomed competition with the greatest creative minds . . . .  That Mr. Cohen is an editor, that his love of literature comes in large part from awe in the presence of better writers than he, is no small matter. His love is infectious, and regardless of how well he ends up teaching us to write, that is miracle enough.”Wall Street Journal

“[A] perfect tasting menu . . . the homage of a passionate reader to the writers who have provided his ‘main pastime.’ ”The Sunday Times (U.K.)

“This book is a wry, critical friend to both writer and reader. It is filled with cogent examples and provoking statements. You will agree or quarrel with each page, and be a sharper writer and reader by the end.”—Hilary Mantel

“These twelve essays are like twelve perfect university lectures on the craft of writing fiction. The professor—or, in this case, author—succeeds in being not only knowledgeable but also interesting, charming, and engaging.”Library Journal (starred review)

“Insightful . . . [Cohen] escorts his readers to Iris Murdoch for sage counsel on launching a novel, to Salman Rushdie for shrewd guidance on developing an unreliable narrator, to Rudyard Kipling for a cagey hint on creating memorable minor characters, and to Leo Tolstoy for a master’s help in transforming personal experience into fictional art.”Booklist

Baker & Taylor
A critically acclaimed author, drawing on his illustrious career in publishing and a lifetime of reading, takes readers on a fascinating journey into the minds, techniques, concerns, tricks, flaws and obsessions of our greatest writers, including Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. By the author of By the Sword and Chasing the Sun.

Baker
& Taylor

Explores the act and art of writing through the processes of famous fiction writers, including Gabriel Garcia Marquez's thoughts on how to start a novel, Virginia Woolf's perspective on style, and Vladimir Nabokov's beliefs on the nature of fiction.

Publisher: New York : Random House, c2016
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780812998306
Branch Call Number: 808.3 COH
Characteristics: xx, 323 p. :,ill. ;,24 cm.

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danulb
Dec 29, 2017

I had a similar reaction to another reviewer: He covers the usual bases, but doesn't do much to elaborate much on anything. Yet the author doesn't do more with most of than present examples -- pro and con -- with very brief discussions. There's no "operational" advice -- stuff the aspiring writer can put into practice. Or I missed it if there were.

And, overall, I think at this stage anyone who's read a few books on the craft knows to read the masters and also read a lot -- both in one's specialty (if one has one) and out of it. I felt he should've done more to say how a writer might spot and work on the various areas -- rather than piling on examples and anecdotes. (The examples were good and the anecdotes were fun, but I wanted more.)

By the way, I liked that he brought up rhythm, irony, and sex scenes -- else this would be just another Writing 101 book -- or maybe writing 201. I believe it's good to get beyond the same old laundry list -- character, plot, setting, point-of-view -- that literally hundreds of other writing books cover. (Granted, I've only read a few, but I've skimmed enough to see it's hard to come up with much fresh to say about plot or point-of-view.)

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1aa
May 10, 2017

Relatively brief, but very fluidly written chapters, though with a lot of gossipy bits and bragging that were more annoying as the book progressed. All of the main elements are covered: point of view, plot, characters, and most importantly, rewriting, which is given two chapters. The worst chapter is on style and rhythm because it doesn't do much to explain it and develop it, but it gives a great footnote to Lucas' "Style" which is available on archive dot org.

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