In Memoriam J.D. Salinger

Jan. 1, 1919–Jan. 27, 2010
Publish date:

He epitomized what some writers may deem the ultimate luxury—a successful authorial life free from the public eye and the endless self-promotion required in the modern book world.
Moreover, J.D. Salinger was able to pull it off by writing short stories and his unforgettable—and only—novel: The Catcher in the Rye. It was a book so good that while it was published in 1951—and despite the author’s reclusive quirks over the decades that followed—it still sells hundreds of thousands of copies a year, and connects with readers everywhere.

What is the magic of the book and its longevity? Analyses abound, but one factor is undeniable: Holden Caulfield has one distinctive voice.

In honor of that voice and its creator, we took a look at William Cane’s Write Like the Masters to see what the rest of us might learn. Here’s to you, J.D., hounds-tooth coats, carousels, eccentricities and all.

In fiction and nonfiction, voice refers to the feeling and tone of writing, a certain flavor determined by word choice and phrasing that gives a text dimension and makes it distinctly and peculiarly human. The voice of a writer is usually easier to hear in first person texts because third person narratives so often mimic the “beige voice” of an objective reporter. With first person it’s usually easier to be intimate, unique and quirky; indeed, open any page of The Catcher in the Rye and you’ll hear Holden’s voice loud and clear.

Salinger makes use of teen barbarisms and he employs numerous leitmotifs—that is, words or phrases that recur with a character and lend him personality. F. Scott Fitzgerald used the same technique in The Great Gatsby (one of Salinger’s favorite books), where an effective leitmotif was Gatsby’s habit of calling people “old sport”—a phrase that did more to characterize him as affected upper crust than it did to describe the people he addressed. Similarly, in The Catcher in the Rye we have the often repeated “goddamn,” “madman” and “phoney.” Such words characterize Holden more than the people he describes. The use of leitmotifs is one way Salinger achieves a unique voice for his protagonist. The frequent use of italics, careful attention to diction (general word choice), and repetition all add to the sound of Holden’s voice. … No one used voice better than Salinger, and if you pay attention to the way he captures his main character in The Catcher in the Rye … you’ll surely be learning the technique from a master.


New Agent Alert: Tasneem Motala of The Rights Factory

New literary agent alerts (with this spotlight featuring Tasneem Motala of The Rights Factory) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.


Timothy Miller: The Alluring Puzzle of Fact and Fiction

Screenwriter and novelist Timothy Miller explains how he came to write historical fiction and how research can help him drive his plot.


Dr. Munish Batra and Keith R.A. DeCandido: Entertainment and Outrage

Authors Dr. Munish Batra and Keith R.A. DeCandido explain how they came to co-write their novel and why it's important to them that the readers experience outrage while reading.


Incite vs. Insight (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use incite vs. insight with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.


Jane K. Cleland: On Writing the Successful Long-Running Series

Award-winning mystery author Jane K. Cleland describes what it's like to write a long-running book series and offers expert advice for the genre writer.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: #StartWrite, Virtual Conference, and New Courses

This week, we’re excited to announce free resources to start your writing year off well, our Novel Writing Virtual Conference, and more!


20 Most Popular Writing Posts of 2020

We share a lot of writing-related posts throughout the year on the Writer's Digest website. In this post, we've collected the 20 most popular writing posts of 2020.


Carla Malden: Writing With Optimism and Innocence

Screenwriter and author Carla Malden explains why young adult fiction and the '60s go hand-in-hand and how she connected with her main character's voice.