Stepping Stones (Part 2)

Today’s blog:  Light the Way

“A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others.”

– Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

Master the Craft

Pop Quiz:  In the blog post, “Stepping Stones (Part 1)”, a book is featured as a must-read for fiction authors.  Is it…

  1.  A Book About Absolutely Nothing by I.M. Nobody?
  2.  How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You by Matthew Inman?
  3.  Fiction Writing Master Class by William Cane?

If you picked number three, then pat yourself on the back. Better yet, applaud yourself for returning to “Stepping Stones (Part 2)”.  Why?  Because this week’s post is the first in a series of  excerpts  from William Cane’s book, Fiction Writing Master Class.  Follow along as Cane analyzes  both the style and technique of several famous authors.  He refers to this method of teaching as “the classical technique of imitation.”  As a professor of English, Cane uses it to coach students.  He writes, “I know these methods work, and by the end of the book so will you.”   Yes, learning from the greats can transform your writing – it can help you master the craft.

Learn From the Best

“Want to find your voice? Learn from the best.”

– William Cane

“Write Like Honore de Balzac”

Chapter 1 of Fiction Writing Master Class  features the great French novelist, Honore de Balzac.  (On a personal note, I really enjoyed this chapter! I chose to acknowledge it first, not because of its place in the book but for its content. I hope you enjoy it, too!)


Balzac was a lawyer who found the profession “unbearably dull.”  Writing, on the other hand, made him lots of money when all else failed.  Cane explains that “Balzac’s clumsy style began almost as a joke at the start of his career.”  Yet, he was not deterred and “set to work like a madman, writing at a furious pace.”  In fact, “he could write as fast as he talked and this was very fast indeed. ” He wrote “in long timeless stretches; he boasted that he could wear out ten crow-feather pens in three days, in his rapid hand that dashed like black rain across the uncorrected pages…It was offal, he said, but it poured out…His mother was horrified. She had been brought up with a regard for syntax and prose style and  his careless cliches shocked her. They got worse as he succeeded.”

Yes, “Balzac was a klutzy writer. His sentences are awkward, his phrasing clumsy, his style unappealing – and yet he was very successful.”


Cane notes, “If you fear that you, too, may have some element of awkwardness in your writing, if your sentences don’t sound musical, if your pose is sometimes stolid and leaden, take heart.  While it is important to try to fix these faults, they should not stop you from writing.  After all, they never stopped Balzac.”

In addition, “One of the most difficult aspects of writing a novel is getting that first draft done, and on this score if Balzac can’t inspire you no one can. Sometimes a klutzy style will improve over time; in fact, it’s almost inevitable that the more you write the better you’ll write…Get yourself a blog and post your ideas and thoughts, and even chapter drafts so that you can see your work professionally formatted.”

How then did  Balzac compensate for the problems with his prose style?  He  used other strengths.  In his case, Cane refers to Balzac “as a master of emotion, his writing is filled with emotional tags – little references to the feelings of his characters.”  (The book goes into detail on pages 9-12.)

Balzacs Secret Method For Writing

Balzac’s “fixed routine was a large part of his success. He isolated himself from the world so that he could concentrate on his writing.”  He either kept his blinds drawn during the day or worked at night “while the world slept.”  Most successful writers understand the need to distance themselves from the distractions of the everyday world.

Interestingly, Balzac developed a passion for coffee.  He kept himself awake “during the wees hours of the night with murderously black and concentrated and above all thick-brewed coffee, which he made in a big coffeepot and sipped while he worked.”  Balzac confessed, “Coffee is a great power in my life.”

Finally, “Balzac’s ideas were fantasies drawn from his own life…So, the secret for getting ideas and for developing a varied plot – a moving, dynamic plot like Balzac employs – is letting your own fantasy life wander where it will.”

A Quick Summary: Honore  de Balzac

What is gleaned from this lesson about  great French novelist, Honore de Balzac?

  • Do not let awkwardness in your writing skills stop you from writing.
  • Write, write, write.
  • Keep a fixed routine.
  • Do not let distractions interfere with writing.
  • Coffee rocks (Yay)!

I hope you enjoyed these excerpts from William Cane’s book Fiction Writing Masterclass: Emulating the Work of Great Novelists to Master the Fundamentals of the Craft.  Go to and purchase a copy today.

Join me next time for another look at one of history’s greatest authors in “Stepping Stones (Part 3)”.

Meanwhile, know your story matters.

Sunshine and rainbows!

S. Whitten

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