And study them!
I'm reading Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn now. It's a book that I'd heard quite a bit about, but I never got around to reading.
Lucky for me, because now I get to read it for the first time. It's kind of a fable, for those of you who don't know, about the last unicorn searching for others of her kind. It has a heroic prince, and a bumbling wizard, and an evil king, and a truly frightening monster (plus plenty of curses and spells and castle stuff that makes my heart go squee).
But there are two features about it that I really, really like. First, the book reads to me as if Beagle decided to absolutely, as often as possible, bend similes and metaphors to the breaking point. There's hardly a paragraph that doesn't offer up a startling bit of figurative language, like this bit:
The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone. She was very old, though she did not know it, and she was not longer the careless color of sea foam, but rather the color of snow falling on a moon lit night. But her eyes were still clear and unwearied, and she still moved like a shadow on the sea.
Isn't that cool? It's poetic, but I'm hard pressed to tell you exactly what I see in it. What is a "lilac wood," for example? I know what a lilac is, but it's a bush, not a tree. Is it a forest that has a lot of lilac? And then, what is the difference between the color of sea foam (which I have seen), and snow falling on a moon lit night (which I haven't seen, but I can imagine)? How does a shadow move on the sea?
The point isn't that the description strains my ability to see it; it's more that the description is evocative. It's spoken as if there is a significant difference between sea foam and moon light on snow, and that I should know it. And for the moment of the sentence, I DO know it. At least I feel I do.
I'd heard once that a writer should use similes and metaphors sparingly, since they can compete with each other for attention. If Beagle heard that advice, he must have thought, "Screw that, I'm going the other direction!"
So I like this book because the language is consistently interesting and entertaining.
The other reason I like it surprises me. The language drew me in and kept me going, but now that I'm 61% done (thank you Kindle for keeping track), I find that I'm emotionally attached to the characters. Prince Lir's tragic love is heartbreaking (and, frankly, he started as a ridiculous person), just as the unicorn's quest has me scared for what will happen next, and Schmendrick, the bungling wizard, unexpectedly developed depth and pathos.
I'm delighted that I found this book because it's both fun to read, and I like what Beagle does with the writing. I'm learning more about the possibilities of prose through reading him.
The advice is simple: find the writers you like, and then pay attention to how they do what they do. Maybe you'll become more of the writer you want to be by doing this.