How To Write Like Tolstoy: A Journey into the Minds of Our Greatest Authors

Random. May 2016. 352p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9780812998306. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780812998313. COMM
OrangeReviewStarThese 12 essays are like 12 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. Cohen (By the Sword) inspires us to read what he has read and to write…like Tolstoy. Each essay takes up a particular technique, including, not surprisingly, character, dialog, and point of view. He also considers topics that have received comparatively less study: plagiarism and issues of originality, irony, and writing about sex. These chapters are what set this book apart from other classic guides such as John Gardner's The Art of Fiction and Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. Cohen doesn't suggest one "right" approach, but instead poses crucial questions, which he reflects upon and responds to with caution. For every example, the author presents a counterexample, an exception to the rule. Through this comparative exercise, he shows why there can be no hard and fast rules when it comes to crafting fiction.
VERDICT Cohen reveals the possibilities that lie in wait when authors practice selection and intention, sparking the literary imagination. He doesn't teach writers how to write so much as he instructs them how to think.
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing