Much as the meme says, I am not a bookworm. I am a Book Dragon. And I adore my hoard.
Now, I don’t get to read these days as much as I would like. Mea culpa. I really need to devote some quality time to it. But, I’ve certainly read a fair bit.
Reading is fundamental. And, with a bit of editorial oversight, reading is fucking metal.
Best. Bookmobile. EVER.
We’ve all got our favorites. We adore sharing them to get others onto the fandom trains we’re ticketed to. That’s cool. But honestly I tend to shy away from that whenever I’m presenting myself publicly at writing panels.
Why? Because I don’t think an endorsement of what I like to read is enough, and honestly there’s just not enough time on those panels to go into the why. Thankfully, I’ve got this blog. I can do whatever the hell I want.
And that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to share a small sampling today of some of my favorite books. But there’s a catch. Fine print, if you will. Fuck me, that was pretty clever. Thank you, coffee.
I’m going to go into the why—the importance of having favorites, and of the benefits of seeking new ones, more than just for the sake of expanding your mental horizons. So, would-be writers out there? Listen up. In no particular order, here are some of my favorites:
First off on the short list of faves is The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.
I was given this book early on in High School, and it made me instantly fall in love with both short stories and threading narrative over multiple works. It really was my first introduction to keeping stories super tight to rack up interest and investment.
Next, a pretty well known book with a less than stellar movie adaptation, The Giver by Louis Lowry.
I tore through this one in junior high. What can I say that’s not been said? This introduced me to the concept of tranquility at a terrible price, which was flipping the script on the dystopian stuff I had been exposed to before then.
Next, The Lord of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Duh. Moving on.
Fat Men from Space by Daniel Pinkwater
I actually read this long before I ever had the chance to dip into The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, so it was my first introduction to how much FUN you could have with writing and reader expectation, and the fact that—yeah—you can totally celebrate weirdness and still have it relatable and humorous.
And now, The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
I wanted to avoid series on the list, but seriously: pick a book out of Butcher’s Paranormal Detective series, and I can gush a fair bit. I credit it because Butcher’s writing style clued me into balancing some pretty esoteric concepts with down-to-earth pop culture humor.
Lastly on this very short list, I mean, I could go on, but I like to keep these blogs relatively short, we have On a Pale Horse by Piers Anthony.
Yeah yeah yeah, I know. It’s part of a series, but when I first read it I had no idea at the time, so it very much stands alone in my mind, and remains to my eyes the best of the lot that followed. I’m admittedly biased. In any case, Anthony’s tale of Death as a job, and the kind of HR department all great immortal beings have to contend with was pure literary mashup for me. Equal parts fairy tale and sit-com.
Okay. So there’s some examples, and even a bit of tip-toeing into why I dig on them so much. But that’s not what I want you to walk away with, today. Sure, if you’ve never read any or all of these I’d encourage you to check them out. But I do so less as a fan and more as someone who wants to give you more tools to fashion your own works with.
See, I’ve chatted a bit about the importance of checking out other work to influence your creativity, but a lot of that immersion is subjective. Sure, you can take art classes to learn the terminology or music classes to understand the science of it, but at the end of the day the key thing is honing your own voice.
And, personally, I think creative writing above all else values the objective over the subjective, even as it’s the subjective that will help you find your own voice in the craft. In short, there’s more room for breaking the rules once you understand what they are in the first place.
HELL YES BREAK SHIT LULZ.
No. Go choke on a Limp Bizkit album. I’m not talking about mindless destruction, cretin. This is creating through breaking. But more than that, it’s a more direct path from the why to the how then you’ll find in other artforms at times. Again, it’s not always the case, but let me clue you in to what I mean.
First, obviously, you should read more books, and find more favorites, simply because it opens you up. Consider each book a new culture to explore. Like it or not, it will influence your worldview. Sometimes in surprising ways. Sometimes in ways that make you want to shake a baby.
I mean, did you really need THAT much novel real estate to describe a fucking HALLWAY, Nathaniel Hawthorne? If you weren’t already dead I’d brand a capital A into your forehead.
I mean, you’ve got plenty of empty space for it…
Exploring these other works will surely color your voice as a writer, because it’ll change the social hues you’re aware of as a person. But here’s the better part of it:
Take a piece of art that strikes you. You can see why it strikes you, even if you can’t express it. The harder part is figuring out the HOW and applying it to your own work. I mean, there are so many different ways to approach something and get the same illustrative result.
But with writing, the why and the how are, largely, right there. Knowing the ins and outs are useful for breaking things down, yeah, but when you really spark to something in the written word, everything you need for a new tool for your own writing is right there on the page in front of you.
Word choices, descriptive techniques, dialogue patterns, and even where the rules get thrown right out the window for optimal effect is at your fingertips in static black and white. I could teach you five different ways to achieve the same effect in Photoshop, but there’s only one way to get to the heart of something that speaks to you in writing.
Okay. Hopefully not LITERALLY speaking to you. Your mileage may vary, along with your sanity.
And I’m not talking author’s intent or the deconstruction of prose, I’m talking pure baseline “Wow. That was such a cool way to phrase that.” And just like that, you already want to apply that kind of skill to your own writing, and you have a benchmark that’s readily accessible.
The more books you consume, and particularly the more faves you find for revisiting, the more you can hone your own work just by virtue of the pastime. Indulging in the craft, no matter your creative pursuit, is paramount to growing in skill. But, for storytelling, it’s learning through loving.
Or, to put it another way that appeals, it’s siphoning off the power of past souls to enhance your own. Metal.
Until next time, Horns Up.