Writing Craft

8 Ways to Write Like Shakespeare (Part 2)

I started a post last week about how much I owe as a writer to Shakespeare. We never met, of course (I’m old, just not that old); but in addition to the four lessons I listed last week, I also learned these crucial and valuable lessons from the Bard of Avon:

  1. Do something new.

Shakespeare started his career where others did—imitating Chaucer, Milton, Spencer, and others. He not only borrowed and stole from other writers (as everyone did back then), but also chose subjects to compete simultaneously with competitors’ plays. But what set him apart from everyone else were his powers of innovation. He invented new words, coined memorable phrases, and took old plots and gave them new twists.

In earlier versions of King Lear, for example, the tale ended happily. In Macbeth, he borrowed characters from different periods of history. In Othello, he made the noble African of the title a Christian instead of a Muslim, as would have been expected.

Whatever you’re writing, ask: What’s new about it? What’s fresh? Are you breaking new ground or at least putting a new twist on something?

  1. Roll with the punches.

Shakespeare was just getting started as a player and playwright when London’s theaters were closed in June 1592 due to an outbreak of the plague. Suddenly, there were no theaters in which to perform and no crowds to applaud. So what did he do? Did he return to Stratford-upon-Avon to see his family? Did he travel with his theater company through the English countryside? We don’t know, but we do know that he produced two long poems for patronage and publication during that period: Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, which became his first published works and probably established his reputation as not only a “player” and playwright but also as a poet.

You have to make adjustments as a writer. If you hit a roadblock, strike out in a new direction. Try another market. A different genre. A fresh tactic. Even a crazy idea, once in a while.

  1. Rewrite.

Most would agree that Shakespeare’s most famous words are Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy. But did you know that famous speech exists in at least three versions? Similarly, the modern text of King Lear is based on three versions, each of which contains lines not found in the others, suggesting that Shakespeare revised the play more than once. Shakespeare was apparently still rewriting and revising long after his plays debuted.

All good writing is rewritten. And great writing is rewritten many times—even for someone as gifted as Shakespeare. Sorry, but that’s the way it is. Never ever send “foul papers” (as Shakespeare and his contemporaries called their first drafts) to an editor or agent; keep at it until you produce “fair paper,” as they called the production draft.

  1. Write to change minds and lives.

The predecessors of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice were characters that inspired only contempt. But Shakespeare crafted a far more complicated, even sympathetic character, while depicting the ugliness of vengeance and beauty of mercy.

Othello is a compelling warning against jealousy. Measure for Measure satirizes the “bawdy courts” of Shakespeare’s time. The Taming of the Shrew, while it offends twenty-first century standards, actually challenged Elizabethan beliefs and practices relating to marriage.

So how will your reader be better off for reading what you wrote? Realistically? Specifically? How will your next piece of writing light a fire? Change a mind? Enrich a life?


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Checked Your Copyright Lately?

Have you checked your copyright lately? I mean, have you actually gone to the US Copyright Office web site and searched for your registration? You might be surprised at what you won’t find. Here is the link to start your search.

Most publishing contracts have a clause that requires the publisher to register the copyright, in the name of the author, with the US Copyright Office. This is supposed to be done as part of the in-house paperwork process.

If you do not find your book, don’t panic.

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Rumbles in CBA

News broke late last week that key staff people in CBA (aka Christian Booksellers Association) are no longer working for the association. In what appears to be a purge, Curtis Riskey, president for 11 years, is no longer working there. Other key people are either no longer with the organization …

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Embedded Writing

During World War II, one of the highest profile journalists who wrote about the war for Americans back at the home front was Ernie Pyle. Ernie was one of the first “embedded” journalists in wartime and he lived and wrote while among the soldiers. He focused his stories on individual …

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Many Happy(?) Returns!

by Steve Laube

Every first-time author is confronted by the reality of “Reserves Against Returns” as part of publishing economics. It is usually a shock and elicits a phone call to their agent crying “What happened to my money?”

Did you realize that book publishing is the only “hard goods” industry where the product sold by the supplier to a vendor can be returned? This does not happen with electronics, clothing, shoes, handbags, cars, tires…you name it. If it is a durable good the vendor who buys it, owns it (which is why there are Outlet Malls – to sell the remaining inventory). Except for books. Somewhere along the line the publishers agreed to allow stores to return unsold inventory for credit. In one sense, publishers are selling their books on consignment. Bargain books are actually resold by the publisher (after getting returns or to reduce overprinted inventory) to a new specialty bargain bookseller or division of a chain (which buys the bargain books non-returnable).

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New Author Acronyms for The Oxford English Dictionary

Last week the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) added a bunch of new words to their august tome. What made news is that four of the words aren’t words at all but acronyms that have crept into our everyday communication via the Internet. “Words” like LOL, OMG, BFF, and IMHO.

In honor of this auspicious occasion I thought it would be fun to see if we can find other acronyms that should become part of our language, if for no other reason, because of their frequent use.

IHMM (I Hate My Manuscript) – A common cry of every writer while in the midst of the creative process. Self-doubt and lack of confidence create this acronym.

INMT (I Need More Time) – Deadlines should be carved in stone, but are often sketched in pencil. Ask any editor what frustrates them the most and missed deadlines will be in their top five.

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Brainstorming: How and With Whom?

Brainstorming is one of the fun parts in the development of a book. The key for the author is a willingness to hear other ideas. The second, and most critical key, is discovering those with whom you should brainstorm. Those people need to be willing to have their ideas rejected in the discussions and be willing to let an idea they created to be used by someone else. It takes a special person…many times a professional…to achieve that.

I’ve heard complaints from some authors who try this in a critique group only to be frustrated. Egos get in the way or the ideas generated are singularly unhelpful. Or the discussion doesn’t move the project forward, instead it gets sidetracked by numerous differing opinions on the direction of the piece.

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Same Message, Different Reader

When a published book is successful (sells well), the publisher and author begin pondering how to be successful again with the next book. Often times, the solution to the repeat-success puzzle in non-fiction is having a similar message but aimed at a different audience. You’ve seen it happen many times, …

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