Due to popular demand, I have, at the request of various readers, created this infographic of the original post. Enjoy, and do let me know your thoughts!
Many, many authors give writing advice. Some useful, and some not quite so. It’s difficult to figure out what advice you should follow and what you shouldn’t, as some might suit your style and some won’t. Not every famous author out there had a guidebook that they followed when writing their first bestseller. Many factors played into what led them to write what they did, why it was published, how long it took to get popular, and so on.
Writing is rarely, if ever, a straight and smooth road.
There are a number of authors that I would recommend reading if you are interested in writing fiction. All for different reasons, and all that will teach you something different. What you take from each of them is your own, but if you need some guidance, I’ll help to point you in the right direction.
1) J.R.R. Tolkien. That’s a given, but for a variety of reasons. In the LOTR trilogy, Tolkien creates not only a beautiful story with emotional depth, he also creates languages, history, culture, and all without sex, drugs, or high-speed car chases. Tolkien’s books are quite innocent in that anyone could read them and not have to skip parts, and they are extremely detailed when you go back and look into what caused events to take place. Tolkien didn’t just create a story, he created an entire world, filled with, for the most part, things that we enjoy in our own. It’s one thing to create a story, it’s another to give it a full history, to create multiple new languages, and to turn it into something that everyone can relate to in some way.
If you’re looking to improve detail in your writing, look to Tolkien.
2) Anne Rice. Anne Rice has admittedly had a number of jobs in her life prior to becoming a writer, as many do. She is arguably the creator of modern day vampires with their beauty and eloquence and obvious sex appeal. Before Rice started the Vampire Chronicles, we were still clinging to Stoker’s horrific Dracula—a much different vampire than what Rice created. And from her creation she wrote a long and successful series by weaving through past and present and by sticking to her idea.
Anne Rice is a great author to either read or follow if you want to learn how to make something new out of something old. To really become adept at this, you need to own what you are creating. It has to be unique, and it has to be yours. Ever wonder why most vampire books today are compared to hers? It’s because she left an impression. She’s also very fan-oriented as well as personally active on facebook.
3) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Everyone knows Sherlock Holmes, and most know where he came from. Doyle wrote character driven books that hooked the reader by compelling them to attach themselves to Holmes and Watson. When you read these books, your heart become deeply attached. The characters are the primary focus while the story is secondary. Doyle created an everlasting duo that still has hardcore fans. He also wrote brilliant stories that make the mind work and sometimes leave you working out puzzles long after you’re done reading.
For inspiration on creating characters that really stand out and that pull your readers in, start there.
4) J.K. Rowling. While Doyle wrote character driven books, Rowling’s were more setting based. Of course, you do become attached to the characters, but the world is what really pulls you in. Without the magic the characters wouldn’t be as appealing. The Harry Potter series is amazing in that not only did Rowling create a world inside of our own, she also created food, spells, cultures, and everything else within it. A complete world that lives in our own. Something that, although we know it isn’t real, we still hope that it might be. She was also quite clever in naming many things in the books, from places to foods, she thought everything out quite well.
Rowling is a great author to look into for inspiration on world building and in-depth creativity in writing. Think about it, has anything ever sounded better than a Butterbeer? Ever thought about what Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley really mean? She’ll teach you to leave lasting impressions with the small details.
5) George R.R. Martin. Of course he makes the list. Why? Because Martin has created a world in which the underdogs are kings. The best and boldest characters are little girls, boys from “broken homes”, young women thrown into marriages who beat the odds, and a “dwarf”. We feel for these characters, we see ourselves in them, we relate to them, and we support them.
Think Brienne, Arya, John Snow, Tyrion, Bran, The Hound, Cersei, Sansa, Ned Stark, Daenerys and all of the others. None of these characters are the typical heroes that we are used to. They are characters that can fit just about anyone in some way. In these books, we are generally led to feel something for even the worst characters because Martin opens up the characters so that we can understand them. It is unsafe to become overly attached to, or overly opposed to, almost any character in these books.
To learn about characterization and pushing the boundaries, read Martin.
This list is most obviously of my own making. These are some of the authors that have caused me to think the most, to push the hardest, and to expand my imagination. There are countless others, but at the moment these are the most influential to me.
What authors have been the most influential to you and why? Did this list make you add a book to your “to read” list?
There are many, many parts to a good story; the characters, the setting, the plot, the side-stories, the genre, the dialect, and the list could go on for days at the very least. Each of these pieces contributes to the overall story, whether in a positive or negative way. Writing these parts is one thing, but reading them another.
It’s hard for an author to consistently lay out what is in their mind for a reader. Think about trying to describe something unfathomable to someone, as I’m sure you’ve had to do before. Something unbelievable, something that exists in its reality only to you until you tell another exactly what you can see and feel in the depths of your mind. And to do it in a way that they can actually see what you saw, or feel what you felt is unspeakably difficult. That’s what’s it’s like for a writer, especially one of fiction, to write an entire story in a way that engages, interests, and flows for you, the reader.
Because we all read, understand, and experience things differently—from menial everyday tasks, to situations unique to ourselves—I’m guessing that we all favor different parts of stories. Of course, you want the story to be well-written, but we each have our own perception of what exactly that is, so it isn’t as simple as black and white.
I tend to enjoy the characters and the setting best in stories. That’s most-likely why I prefer fiction. I want the characters and their actions to sing to me. If they smell something foul, I want to smell it too. If they feel the sting of a blade in battle, I want to feel it too. I want to feel as if I am there, and I want to feel as if whatever is happening in the story is happening to me as well.
My first real acknowledgement of this was a long time ago, probably when I was around 9 years-old. I was reading a book that I am quite unable to relocate called “Starr”. It was about a fox, and the cover was cloth bound and a bit ratty, but still solid and comforting. The fox, Starr, described his life as an animal, and when he would run through streams or feel snow crunch beneath his paws I reveled in the sensation. The deep, moist smell of bark and fallen leaves would fill my nostrils, even while sitting inside of a classroom in the middle of the winter.
Just because Starr was a fox, it did not mean that I couldn’t relate to his story. At that time, I probably wanted nothing more than to be a fox, because I am easily swayed by words and my imagination takes a firmer hold than it should. I was enveloped by the character and the setting, even though I’m not one for forests. I saw things from his perspective and it made me love them.
But that’s just me. There are many other facets to even a short story, and each aspect is unique to the reader. While I enjoy the things I mentioned above, many others might find them tedious.
I, on the other hand, am not a fan of artistic writing, and I don’t care much for lengthy bits of prose or song. I lose interest when things become too “modern” in a story, and I’m not a fan of drama. Although those are very specific, I find that things such as long monologues, lack of description, and limited vocabulary lead my mind to wander when reading.
The cherry on top of a good story, for me, is whatever makes me feel like I am there. That’s the best part, the part that adds to an already interesting piece, the part that makes me spend an entire day dragging a book along.
What about you? What’s the best part of the story when you are the one reading it?