TCWT Blog Chain: Learning by Example

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


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:





















25th – [off-day]





30th and

31st – (We’ll announce the topic for next month’s chain.)

What have you learned from the books you’ve read?


NaNo Day 11: Bookshelf Tour

Sooo… after an overall slow writing day yesterday, I finally hit the first big turning point in The End Where I Begin around 9:30 PM, took off running, and FINISHED PART ONE!

I normally don’t write novels in parts, but this one naturally lends itself to it, so I’m just sort of going along with it. And I’m SO EXCITED to be done with the first part, because while stuff obviously happens during it, it is primarily focused on setting up the universe and establishing characters. So now that that’s done, I get to move into the fun part of messing with everything I’ve established, which is, you know, fun.

Plus, although I didn’t reach my weekend goal of 23,000 words last night (only about 22.3k), I do have today set up as a break day in order to do homework, and I ended up with less homework than I was expecting, so: Look who’s finally going to be all caught up by the end of the day! Hopefully I can even get a little ahead and stay that way throughout this week (but that might just be a pipe dream).

As you’ve probably figured out by now if you’re a regular reader of this blog, my novels pretty much always lean towards the action-y side of YA. Nobody’s really sure how it happened, because I’m kind of high-maintenance and almost literally could not hurt a fly if I tried (I passive-aggressively killed some fruit flies this semester by setting up a trap atop my microwave when they invaded my room, and I have felt guilty for it ever since). But I live for car chases and epic-final-battle climaxes, and the books I chose to bring to college reflect that.

Because I’m in a dorm room, I have very limited space for books, and I can only have a small percentage of my actual personal library with me. So: A tour of the books that made the cut for bringing to college.


My Bookcase

bookshelf 1This is the primary place I store my books at school. It’s divided into semi-themed sections. Which are:


Top Left: Ally Carter & Co.

bookshelf 2The top left cubby has my Ally Carter collection (all signed but United We Spy), plus a few random YAs I haven’t had a chance to read yet, and Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, just because it fit the slot I had left. The random YAs are Scarlet by Marissa Meyer, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, and The Eye of Minds by James Dashner (also signed).


Top Right: Lauren Oliver and Friends

bookshelf 3The top right cubby contains my Lauren Oliver collection (including my signed ARC of Requiem), three of the four books from the Young Authors Give Back Tour (What’s Left Of Me by Kat zhang, Taken by Erin Bowman, and Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard–you’ll see where the fourth tour book is later), and some of the thinner contemporary books I have with me (again, because of fitting-into-the-space reasons): The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, my signed copy of Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, and The School Story by Andrew Clements. (Not pictured: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. Because I think the gremlins stole my copy.) (And by that, I mean that I’m pretty sure I loaned it to my mom and she hasn’t had a chance to finish reading it yet.)


Center: Rick Freakin’ Riordan

bookshelf 4The center section of my bookcase is dedicated to Rick Riordan. Here we have all five books in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, plus two of the books from Heroes of Olympus: The Son of Neptune and The Mark of Athena. I unfortunately only have The Lost Hero as an e-book, and the big hole to the right, there, is waiting for House of Hades, whenever I can afford to purchase it (or someone makes me really, super happy by buying it for me, instead).


Bottom Left: The Boy Who Lived

bookshelf 5Bottom left is Harry Potter by JK Rowling. We’ve got all seven books, plus the British edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and The Tales of Beedle the Bard.


Bottom Right: Dystopia and More

bookshelf 6

bookshelf 7Bottom right is The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins, the Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth (two copies of each book–the two in the bottom picture are my unsigned copies; the stack in the top picture are signed), the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis, and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.

All together, that makes up my bookcase, but it’s not the only place I store books in my room. Half the shelf above my dresser is also dedicated to them.


My Bookshelf: Everything that Didn’t Fit Anywhere Else

bookshelf 8

bookshelf 9

Here I have all the books that didn’t fit into either any of the categories or available spots on my bookcase. Some of these are classics and books from when I was little that I love, some are more how-to/guide book oriented, and a lot of them are books that I’ve been meaning to read/finish reading but just haven’t gotten around to yet.

The furthest left are a few of the literary magazines and collections I’ve been published in, followed by Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter: The Official Guide, James Harriet’s Animal Stories by James Harriet, The Little Book of London by David Long, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and David King, The Action Hero’s Handbook by David and Joe Borgenicht, The Handbook of Practical Spying from the International Spy Museum, and Marley y yo por John Grogan (Spanish edition of Marley and Me, obviously).

After this is 1984 by George Orwell, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Inheritance and Brisingr by Christopher Paolini, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, the Holy Bible, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (I know, I’m terrible), Wool by Hugh Howey, and Yonder by Tony Johnston and illustrated by Lloyd Bloom.

Down in front is The Bard’s Guide to Abuses and Affronts by Mr. William Shakespeare, and Merriam-Webster’s Pocket Dictionary and Spanish-English Dictionary.

And then finally, the one other place I store books in my room (outside of my desk, obviously, which only has school-related books):


The Shelf Beside My Pillow: What I’m Currently Reading

bookshelf 10Usually I have several books plus my Nook stacked here, but since it’s NaNoWriMo, I’ve been trying to limit the temptation. Right now I have the fourth book from the Young Authors Give Back tour here (I told you it would show up eventually), Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas.


There you have it: the books I brought to college! (That just took so long to put together.)

What books do you like to keep around?

day 11


Want to Guest Post?

Hey there! I’m going to be going out of town for a couple of weeks in June, and since I won’t have internet access during the trip, I’m going to need to get a nice queue of blog posts put together before I leave. And because I don’t have time to write a thousand and one posts myself before my departure date, I figured I’d see if anyone wants to write a guest post instead.

Your post should be between three hundred and a thousand words, and it can be about pretty much anything you want, minus porn or Twilight (unless you’re bashing S’meyer’s writing, in which case be my guest). Want to talk about a book or movie or author you really love? Want to share a short story you’ve written? Want to gush about a fashion trend you’re obsessed with, or how to dress like a certain book or movie character? Anything goes. Send your ideas in.

If you’re interested, email me with your idea and a sample of your writing (or just send me your proposed post) at: [redacted]. I can’t wait to read all your awesome ideas! (Watch them be so great nobody even wants me to come back from vacation.)

Thanks for the help!