Hello! Disclaimer from the future (July 5, 2020): I’m leaving this post up, because I think it has some useful information throughout, but I also want to note that I do not in any way support or endorse JK Rowling anymore, due to her quite frankly dangerous racism and transphobia.
The December Teens Can Write, Too! blog chain topic is:
“What works of fiction have taught you by example, and what did they teach you?”
I’ve talked about this a little before. The best way to learn about writing is to pay attention. Pay attention to what you like or don’t like about the books you’re reading. Why you react in a certain way and how to either achieve the same effect or avoid it.
As writers, the books we read are our text books. And you don’t necessarily only learn from books in your genre. All reading you do teaches you in some way.
So, here are some books I’ve learned from and what they taught me.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: Break Boundaries
Like a lot of people, I hadn’t read anything, really, in first person, present tense before The Hunger Games. It’s funny because it feels so natural to read it now, but at the time it took some getting used to. But I was also really happy to see it, because that’s the POV+tense combo I’ve always naturally written, and pre-Hunger Games I felt like it was something I wasn’t supposed to do.
Basically: The Hunger Games taught me that if it’s what feels right to you for your story, go for it. Even if it seems unusual. (And now look at us. EVERYONE writes in first person, present tense. Don’t be afraid to be the person who knocks that barrier down.)
Harry Potter by JK Rowling: Plotting & Planning
JK. ROWLING’S. PLOTTING.
I’ve never seen anyone else do so much work laying the groundwork for later plot developments and twists. Not to mention how much development she put into the world-building. The Harry Potter series taught me planning ahead is worth it. (And even the smallest hint in book one, brought back to be something huge later in the series, can make the reader all warm and glowy and happy inside.)
Also that growing up the book series alongside the reader is a really awesome thing to do.
Also a million other things because Harry Potter.
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver: Hard Doesn’t Mean Impossible
Major spoilers on this one if you haven’t read it: Before I Fall taught me it’s okay to kill your protagonist at the end. I’ve seen so many of those unsatisfying “saved at the last second” endings–and endings when the protag DOES die at the end, but in an unsatisfying way–that it’s nice to see one that just feels Right. Before I Fall proves that killing your protag in a way that doesn’t piss the reader off is possible. END SPOILERS
Before I Fall also taught me your main characters don’t necessarily have to be “likable” for the reader to like them. Sometimes it’s the worst people we find the most fascinating.
Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan: You Don’t Always Have to Be Serious
The Percy Jackson series taught me that books don’t always need to be “serious” to be good. Sometimes your narrator can be super sarcastic and a little egotistical and it can be hilarious and that in itself can qualify as good.
Divergent by Veronica Roth: Line-by-Line Pacing
This book is such a fun action-y romp. I was rereading Divergent while working on revisions a while back, trying to figure out what made the line-by-line writing so rapid fire, and I realized it had a lot to do with the sentence length. VRoth is a master of the short, punchy sentence.
After making that connection, I reread some of my other favorite action-y books, examining their sentence structures as well.
As mentioned in last week’s Wordy Wednesday: Shorter sentences make writing run faster, so they’re better in your more intense, action-packed stories. Longer sentences make the reader slow down and pay more attention to the language, so they’re better in more literary, look-how-beautiful-this-imagery-is pieces.
Divergent was the first book to make me really think about how sentence length is an actual, active element in writing.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein: There’s More than Romance
This book is all about friendship and it taught me you don’t have to tell the traditional romance-centric story to still have strong, beautiful relationships the reader will fall in love with and root for.
Waltzing the Cat by Pam Houston: Fiction CAN Feel Real
You’ll notice this one isn’t a YA novel, which just proves my point about learning from a variety of sources. Waltzing the Cat is a book of short stories, all starring the same narrator, I read for my first college creative writing class. And although it’s not something I would have picked up on my own, I couldn’t put it down. I’ve never read something that feels as real as this. Like I thought it had to be a series of short memoirs while I was reading it, but nope, fiction.
If you want to learn about character and setting development, Waltzing the Cat is the way to go.
So, there you have it. Some of the writing-related lessons I’ve learned from books.
If you want to check out the other posts from this month’s Teens Can Write, Too! blog chain and see how other people approached the topic, here’s the schedule:
16th – http://miriamjoywrites.com/
25th – [off-day]
31st – http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com/ (We’ll announce the topic for next month’s chain.)
What have you learned from the books you’ve read?