writers / writers tips / writing

Writers Tip #92: How to Write Like a Pulitzer Prize Winner

When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

I have never wanted to write like Pulitzer Prize Winners Ernest Hemingway, Saul Bellow, or William Faulkner,. The style doesn’t fit me. Not to say I wouldn’t love to win one of the world’s most prestigious writer awards–who wouldn’t?–but I don’t think I can make the compromises to my personal voice to fit into that square hole.

I didn’t understand why until I read Joe Bunting’s article on what characterizes that style of writing (see below). You may see yourself in them. That’s good. There’s room for all of us under the authorial umbrella. If you want more information, click through and read his article. You’ll love it:

We all know there are novels and then there are “literary” novels. When you read Margaret Atwood, it just feels different than when you read Tom Clancy. And for some reason, these literary novels are the ones that win all the most prestigious awards like the Pulitzer Prize, the Man Booker Prize, and the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Literary authors are known for their unique voices and experimental styles. You might have learned not to write run-on sentences in school or to avoid beginning a sentence with “and,” but literary writers often seem to flaunt their rule-breaking ways.

This is both good and bad. Literary novels can be difficult to understand, but they can also be beautiful to read, like poetry.

So if you’re salivating to win a Nobel Prize, and just don’t think your diplomacy skills are good enough to win the Peace Prize, here are eight techniques you can use to make your writing more “literary.”

  1. Write long sentences.
  2. Write short sentences
  3. Be lyrical
  4. Make an allusion to the Bible or Moby Dick or Milton
  5. Use an eponym to name your characters
  6. Be specific
  7. Write a story within a story (or a story within a story within a story)
  8. Have a wide scope

Read the entire article here. Joe builds out each point. I’m glad writers are out there who create this kind of literary prose, but it’s not me. And that’s fine.

Joe wrote this article for Jane Friedman, a publishing consultant who writes a fun, topical blog I follow. Joe’s blog is The Write Practice.

To have these tips delivered to your email, click here.

More tips from authors:

13 Ways and 3 Books to Build Blockbuster Plots

Top 10 Tips for Writers in 2014

Writers Tip #89: 10 Tips from Janis Hubschman

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, adjunct professor of technology in education, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 

42 thoughts on “Writers Tip #92: How to Write Like a Pulitzer Prize Winner

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  4. This post speaks to me, Jacqui. Finding one’s voice is more important than trying to sound “literary” in my humble opinion. But if you can achieve both, well, there’s your Pulitzer. 😊


  5. Sometimes I like to begin a sentence with ‘but’ or ‘and.’ It seems fitting for my character or the ‘sound’ of what I’m trying to get across. Yet I know it’s breaking a rule.

    I hate rules. 😀

    More great info, Jacqui – thanks for sharing.


  6. My dad used to tell me that if a plant failed to thrive in the garden, I’d chosen the wrong plant.
    We make choices, as readers and writers.
    I don’t read to fill time but to fill my brain.
    I don’t write to comfort critics but to assuage my heart.
    As for prizes, I win them each time I write a line that seems to get close to a truth. My personal trophy case, the internal ghost.
    Pulitzer and politics both begin with “P” and I’ve heard the connection is not random.
    Thank you, Jacqui, for posting another great article.


    • I share similar feelings about the two P’s. I had a self-induced meltdown at a writer’s dinner once because I am so sensitive to the overwhelming politics I see hiding everywhere. I needed a good friend there to slap me back to reality. Next time, girlfriend, you better come with me.


  7. I found this very interesting. I write as I write without much thought to its reception, and its only once its published in either Blog or book form that I find myself cringing somewhat and asking myself if what I have just released is absolute rubbish or not. Cynically perhaps, I believe that to win a Pulitzer prize you don’t just need to be noticed, but noticed by the right people. I’ve no idea if that’s true or not


    • I share your cynicism, Peter. I have made a life out of avoiding the right people. I had one of them desperate at one point in my life for my attention and friendship. I didn’t mind the friend, but the cost was too high.


  8. Oh my! This kind of rule breaking is right up my alley. It may also be, I’m afraid, evidence of mental imbalance. That’s okay, since my imbalances make me a little wobbly, but multi-faceted. (Or so I like to think.) Now I just need the prize committees to find me.


      • Yes, Jacqui, I am young at HEART, which pumps the blood through my veins. Don’t forget I am competing with people Older than me. I must give them h.o.p.e.😀 😀 😀 Some, though older, were already better traveled than me by at least 20 years…still they all rose to the occasion. What do you say n.o.w.? “I” was younger than THEM but they kept UP.o_O


  9. I’ve long believed that we write, dance, paint, sing etc. based on how the brain is hardwired. Some brains learn toward the linear and others the gestalt. My brain simply works very circuitously, zig zagging, meandering along to process my world. Our hardwiring, I think, dictates our “voice” – the hard part for me is to listen to it and not try to beat it into submission to what everyone else thinks it should sound like.


    • The wonder of growing older. Don’t you feel that urge less and less, Judy? With each passing day? I’m perfectly happy to be myself, avoid the world. Of course, that’s as long as I have at least one fan–my favorite husby.


    • I think that’s true, Rod. That’s why I say–I don’t care that my writing will never win a Pulitzer. It’s mine. I don’t want to bleed on the page or bore people with my deepest dreams. I just want to tell a good story. I’m country music; Pulitzers are classics.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Being discouraged to write long sentences really left its mark. I’m learning to experiment in that area, and to expand the range. But sometimes, even reading long sentences my brain protests! I think I might need a little more practice – maybe I need to do a prompt related to it at WR101! Thanks for the information. It’s really interesting🙂


    • I’m reading Taylor Stevens’ 5th Vanessa Michael Munroe book. That woman never shies away from ridiculously-long sentences. Yes, her voice is so strong, I take the time to follow them.

      My conclusion: Show off those non-pithy prose!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Reblogged this on Author Matt Bowes and the Dog's Breakfast and commented:
    I’ve oft wondered about the fact that you can take a story and the way it’s written and that’s considered literature, and then there’s chewing gum for the brain, which is the rest of us. And I have discussions with my wife about “The Pearl” and other stories we were forced to devour in high school, and whether anyone actually reads those books because they want to.

    This article breaks it down and it makes sense. Sort of.


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