Books and Authors I’ve learned a lot from…
Posted by Sam Whitehouse
Books and Authors I’ve learned a lot from…
It’s fair to say that reading helped me to improve my writing. It wasn’t until I started University and got some solid constructive criticism that I realised writing wasn’t all about description. After that I looked at my own writing differently, and I looked at books differently, too.
There are some books that stand out as helping me to improve my writing. I’ve still got a lot to learn, and many writers will probably agree that you’re always learning. Each story offers new challenges and it’s safe to say reading goes a long way to helping face those challenges.
Below are a few books and authors who have had the most influence on my writing.
Lee Child is one author who I have no hesitation in saying has helped me improve my writing style the most. With Killing Floor, I realised that description could be sharp and sparse and still have an impact. Child and the Reacher books encouraged me to play around with sentence structure, which in turn helped me to understand how to create more tension and generate a better pace.
I was arrested in Eno’s diner. At twelve o’clock. I was eating eggs and drinking coffee. A late breakfast, not lunch.
The above are the opening lines to Killing floor. They are sharp and stark and they set the scene as well as give an idea of Reacher’s personality. By the end of the first page I was hooked, and Child had already started generating some great tension.
Characters – Stephen King, All of his books
I’m a big Stephen King fan. Think the guy is a certified genius writer. As well as his writing, it’s his characters that come through strongest in his work. They are never anything less than wholly believable. He has the skill to make them seem real, and to make you love or hate them in the space of a few pages. By the end of the novel, you feel like you know the characters. King’s ability is something I’ve only seen done as well by one other writer. Like King, J K Rowling made all of her characters seem real, despite the obvious fantasy tones of the Potter novels.
11/22/63 and Under the Dome are two of King’s novels that most pulled me in, and it was the characters responsible for the pulling. I learned from King that characters are an integral part of the story. A lot hinges on them—pace, plot development, and how a reader engages with the book.
Pace – Derek Landy, The Skulduggery Pleasant series and Rick Riordan, The Percy Jackson series
It’s only recently I’ve started writing between genres. I used to write just fantasy. Probably because it was what I read the most. Pacing is important in any novel, but getting it right for a middle grade or YA is tough. I don’t know if anyone agrees, but younger readers are tougher to please, more demanding. I know I was. I hated books that were slow to develop or had little action. But Landy and Riordan never disappointed on pace. The SP books and the PJ books always have plenty of action—but it’s never pointless, just there to liven things up. The pace is always fast—but there’s always enough time spent developing plot and characters that the fast-pace becomes a problem. Both Landy and Riordan know how to pace a novel and it comes through strongly in all of their books.
Narrative voice (Person and tense) – Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games
It’s become a bit of a trademark in YA fiction now, but a few years back, first person present tense was a new thing to me. Most of the books I read were third person past tense. It’s what I wrote in too. But then I read The Hunger Games and I realised I didn’t just have to stick to one kind of person or tense. I don’t think I’d write in first person present just to jump on the bandwagon, but playing around with another style is useful.
First person present can generate tension; put the reader in the moment like third person past can’t. I’ve recently started writing more in first person, because most of the time it feels natural. Collins generated some serious tension and gripping moments in the Hunger Games, and in large part that could be said to because of the person and tense. How different would the HG’s be if Collins had chosen to write in third person past or second person even?
Person and tense affects the entire book—pace, character, dialogue, plot and through The Hunger Games I learned to make decisions by thinking about what felt right, natural for the story.
World Building – JK Rowling, The Harry Potter series
It’s safe to say, JK Rowling is a master at world building. It’s hard to think of another series of books that develops a world that feels as believable and real as the Wizarding World. In fact I think Tolkien or Martin (Game of Thrones) are the only ones I can think of off the top of my head. But Potter is different. It’s set in the real world, and that part of it feels less real than the Wizarding World. Sometimes it’s hard to believe Hogwarts doesn’t exist and Rowling didn’t go there herself—that’s why it reads as believable as it does.
Rowling made me spend more time crafting the world my stories are set in, taking the time to establish things—big and down to the smallest detail (coins, laws etc)—that pull a reader into a book’s world.
There are plenty more books I could credit as helping me improve my writing, plenty more writers too. Which books or authors have influenced you the most? Who have you learned the most from? If you’re a reader, which books or authors will you always come back to? Please feel free to leave a comment below.