I try not to read my favourite authors as a “writer”. Deconstructing creative works can often suck the life out of them (and equally make you appreciate them more, it’s a fickle thing). But if you are a writer, you’ll be a reader and you’ll be learning whilst reading whether you intend to or not. So what have I learned from my favourite writers?
Lewis Carroll – World Building
Even stories set in the here and now need a bit of world building. It’s fiction after all. But of course if you’re going to delve into fantasy or science-fiction, world building is something you have to get good at. Wonderland is a fantastic example of a fantasy world. Lewis Carroll shows how simple it can be to create a fantastic new world by taking the ordinary (tea parties, playing cards, mushrooms) and asking “what if”. What if rabbits could talk? What if biscuits could make you change size? What if babies were really piglets? If you want to build a new world, start by simply letting your mind run riot. But don’t get swept away in the extraordinary. At the heart of Carroll’s stories is a very real, very ordinary little girl. Impatient, emotional and outspoken, Alice is key to us buying into the fantastical creation of Wonderland.
Jane Austen – Memorable Characters
What can you say about Jane Austen that hasn’t already been said? I don’t know but I’ll give it a bash. Her books are (mostly) romances, but Austen uses these classic love stories to deliver wider deconstructions of society with a sharp sense of humour. Her characters are her strength – and this doesn’t always mean they’re ‘realistic’. What they are is memorable and long-lasting. Even today we can see them around us; the scheming social climber, the over-bearing mother, the ‘good guy’ who’s really a total douche. She spent her life observing – something essential for any writer – and then pushed what she saw just a little bit further. Don’t be afraid to put who and what you see into your work, albeit with a little tweaking. It will make your characters more memorable.
Terry Pratchett – Creating a Unique Writers Voice
Pratchett is my favourite writer so it would be very easy for me to say I like every thing about his work. But the top reason I like his books is his well developed and distinctive writers voice. It’s easy to read something of his and know it’s him. I’ve written about this in more depth, but when I first read Pratchett I was overwhelmed by how he wrote. I wanted to write like that. Pratchett’s voice takes all the tropes of high fantasy and adds a healthy, sarcastic dollop of ‘realness’. The Discworld is peopled with flawed characters who act like real people do – even in a world with magic. They’re petty, selfish and ignorant, yet they still do heroic things. His work is brimming with humour, but there is an edge to it. Even the most dramatic of books can use a bit of a laugh – and the serious message may well penetrate deeper because of it.
Of course, these are only three of the vast array of writers out there. So what have you learnt about writing from your favourite authors?