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5 writing tips from Norwegian novelist Per Petterson

Per Petterson told the crowd at Brookline Booksmith that novelists should not be teaching lessons.

By / September 17, 2010

The New York Times Book Review named Petterson's novel "Out Stealing Horses" one of the 10 best books of 2007.

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Does award-winning Norwegian author Per Petterson ("Out Stealing Horses," "I Curse the River of Time") have any particular advice for other novelists? Here are a few tips that he shared at a book talk sponsored by Boston-area Brookline Booksmith earlier this week:

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1. To find out if you are a writer, stay away from writing for three months. If you go back, you are a writer. (This advice was actually given to Petterson by someone else. He didn't try it himself – he said he was afraid to find out.)

2. Don't write for therapy. "If you need therapy, see a psychiatrist," Petterson advised. "They are quite good at what they do."

3. To write good characters, you must first imagine them, then place yourself above them, and then sink down into them, until you can see out of their eyes.

4. Petterson doesn't think about his readers when he writes. Instead, he thinks about writing good sentences.

5. Don't write to teach lessons. "You shouldn't take lessons from books," he says. "What you should take away is a feeling."

Best quote of the evening: One reader told Petterson he shared "Out Stealing Horses" with his father. (He said that it was the only time he'd ever recommended a book to his dad.) When he finally asked him how he liked it, his father told him that reading "Out Stealing Horses" reminded him of his boyhood in northern Maine when he sometimes used to sit in the barn amid shafts of falling light. He said that reading the book felt to him like discovering a new kind of light. "I like your father so much already," Petterson told the reader.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.

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