At the end of her book, Writing from the Inner Self: Writing and Meditation Exercises that Free Your Creativity, Inspire Your Imagination and Help You Overcome Writer’s Block, Elaine Farris Hughes offers this final piece of advice:
“First, read. It’s that simple. Reading is more important to your writing than anything else I can think of.”
Hughes is hardly the first person to make that suggestion, but what I like is that she goes on to refine it. Writers should read, she says, to help hone their skill in particular areas. For example, she suggests reading Woody Allen for humor, Grace Paley for voice and character, and Loren Eiseley for a sense of wonder.
With that in mind, I’d like to make a few suggestions of my own. Here are some authors I think writers could learn specific techniques from. If you haven’t read them, give them a try and see what you find.
Character: Saul Bellow. I have issues with Bellow’s misogyny, but no one can fault him on the fully realized characters he created in books like The Victim, Herzog, and Henderson the Rain King.
Exploring the depth and richness of everyday life. Alice Munro. Canada’s new Nobel-prize laureate has spent a lifetime writing about the most mundane of lives—and revealing the power and mystery hidden within the ordinary. Pick up anything she's written.
Spare, perfect description. Kent Haruf. Read Plainsong if you want to see Haruf create layered, detailed scenes in two sentences.
Thorough, integrated world building Ursula K. LeGuin. In books like The Left Hand of Darkness (my personal favorite), LeGuin creates entire cultures from the ground up, and doesn’t miss a detail.
Making adventure adventurous. Jon Krakauer. I begrudgingly started Into Thin Air only because I had the flu and it was the sole book at my then-boyfriend’s house, where I was recuperating. I thought a book about scaling Mt. Everest would bore me silly, but I was riveted. Oddly enough, it takes skill to depict the danger in dangerous situations and to make what was exciting in real life also exciting on the page. Krakauer nails it.
Inventiveness. Philip Pullman. The fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials is page after page of deliciously fresh, original ideas, and Pullman’s Sally Lockhart series contains some of the most inventive plot lines I’ve ever read.
Flesh-crawl. Stephen King (who else?). Yes, flesh-crawl is a skill. If you can terrify or nauseate your reader on the page, what can’t you do? The Shining, Carrie, and The Stand top most people’s lists, but the two scariest, in my opinion, are Thinner and Pet Sematary. King himself called Pet Sematary his most frightening read.
Fancifulness. J. K. Rowling. If you are one of the half-dozen people or so in the world who haven’t read the Harry Potter series, get on it now, if not for the magic and the Dickensian plot, then just for the off-beat humor and huge cast of odd-ball characters.
Moral ambiguity. George R. R. Martin--especially his Song of Ice and Fire series. No one in the whole series is just good, and sometimes the most evil characters do something nice. Trying to figure out who is doing what and why is half the fun.
This is my preliminary list of suggestions for authors writers can learn from. If you have any suggestions of your own, post them here.
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...