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?