Lessons from The Great Gatsby, Beloved, & Tracks

© Chic Prune 2015
© Chic Prune 2015

The Fiction Writer’s Workshop and Lobster Lounge is all about writing better, I said as much in an earlier post. But to move forward and in the right direction, it helps to look back every now and then.

The first time I really read the works by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Toni Morrison, and Louise Erdrich I was in college. They transformed and informed the way I write. I like to think of it as my second writing awakening, kind of like a second sexual awakening. In the first you learn how to do it. In the second you learn how to do it right.*

Without any further ado here’s the most important lesson I learned from each book.

The Great Gatsby

That’s the whole burden of this novel—the loss of those illusions that give such color to the world so that you don’t care whether things are true or false as long as they partake of the magical glory.

—F. Scott Fitzgerald, Preface, The Great Gatsby.

Cut to the chase. In the movies, that means get to the action or the good stuff. In books, it means skip the forward, preface, historical notes, even the title and copyright pages because they’re boring. They don’t matter. At least, that’s what I used to think.

The Great Gatsby can’t be cut, it can’t be shortened. It’s all good stuff. I can’t name a better book if you want to learn the value of words. But if you want to understand the value of a good forward there is no better book.

Good books are like puzzles. Each word is a puzzle piece, clearcut and made to fit together. But the full picture isn’t realized until the final piece is in place.


Mixed in with the voices surrounding the house, recognizable but undecipherable…were the thoughts of the women of 124, unspeakable thoughts, unspoken.

—Toni Morrison, Beloved.

Beloved, for me, is summed up in those last three words, “unspeakable thoughts, unspoken.” Thoughts may go unspoken but not unheard. It’s more than 10 years since I first read those words. They’re more like memories now, forgotten, misremembered, and misunderstood but always felt, hard.

Beloved’s a book that makes you work to hear what it’s saying. Hard as it is, the writing won’t let you give up. And you won’t forget it how it feels either. Reading isn’t necessarily easy, it’s just necessary.


Around me, a forest was suspended, lightly held. The fingered lobes of leaves floated on nothing….Nothing was solid. Each green crown was held in the air by no more than splinters of bark.

—Louise Erdrich, Tracks.

Tracks is beautifully sad. It’s the kind of beauty that makes sadness bearable. It’s fleeting. Anything more would be crushing.The story takes place in a forest. As you read a forest grows dark around you, turning pages sound like rustling leaves, and despite knowing where you’re going you can’t see what’s coming.

There’s an element of magical realism in this story that’s purely magic. It’s the kind of magic that makes you smile because you know it’s real. And it can be yours if you wish long enough, work hard enough, and find just the right words.

There you have it, three lessons from three great works: 1) Make every word count, 2) Make readers work and the work worthwhile, and 3) With the right words magic’s real.

I like to think there are elements of these lessons in all my writing. If there isn’t, at least, now you know what I’ve been aiming for with every post.

If you want to share how your favorite authors have inspired/taught you leave a comment or write your own post and give your fingers room to stretch out.

*While, I still don’t know how to do it right—I love to practice.

Logo by Indian Macgyver
© Chic Prune 2015


5 thoughts on “Lessons from The Great Gatsby, Beloved, & Tracks

  1. Some good insights. The Great Gatsby is a boo that’s been on TBR list for a while now. I keep hearing about it, and how wonderful it is, but I have’t gotten round to it yet. Your post has shifted it up the priority list a bit. 🙂 (My post on this topic should be going up by the end of the week.)


  2. Mac, I loved your post and the lessons you took from each of these unforgettable writers. The essay was elegant and beautifully informative. What a terrific job. And I’m inspired to go back through some of my own writing and see what I can apply. Thanks for the insight and spark of motivation.


Listen up Mac'

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