This may come as a shock to some of you, and a silly blog post for others, but it needs to be said. There is one very easy thing you can do to become an amazing writer. Guess what it is… Read!
Why it works: Approach writing as a new language
How did you learn your first language? You weren’t born with it, right? The origin of language is just as highly debated in scholarly circles as the origin of man itself, but what we know for sure is that our style of communication depends on what we learn from those around us. And if you want to learn good writing, the best place to start is to approach it as a new language that only exposure can teach you.
This is also why I strongly suggest only reading from highly acclaimed authors. Some may say to read the good and the bad, but I disagree. If our brains learn a new language based on mimicry and influence, then reading work with poor writing habits are only going to make us go backwards. Surround yourself with beautiful work and your work will transform as well.
Recommendations on what to read to improve target areas
There are some amazing writers out there who you can learn to emulate. It’s best to search out a handful of award winning authors with reviews that sing praises with keywords such as “crisp,” “colorful,” or “lyrical”. Remember in school pressing a book to your head just wishing the knowledge would magically enter your brain? In this case, you literally can learn things by osmosis. If you read enough, your writing will take on some of the elements of what you read. That’s because your brain is reading structured sentences, descriptions, and the format of sentences over and over again, and when you use those same synapses to think of how to form new sentences, you’ll have a baseline already in place.
Out of the books I’ve read, I have two authors I’d suggest purely on their prose. Both lean towards flowery writing which only master wordsmiths could pull off. If this sounds like something you’d want to learn, then I suggest U.K. Le Guin, author of Earthsea, for her dreamlike quality in writing. I’m impressed most by her transitions in time. A single paragraph can pass ten years or ten seconds in the character’s life, and it always feels fluid and natural.
If you’re looking for something a bit more modern and fresh, I’d suggest Laini Taylor‘s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Laini’s work most impresses me in the way she can add a strong voice even to a setting description. No matter what happens, every word feels like its dripping with the main character’s vibe. Truly amazing.
World-Building can be one of the most difficult skills to learn. Authors have some tricks up their sleeves, and watching how its done may help you learn how to introduce your complicated world as well.
Other book bloggers might recommend Lord of the Rings at this point, but honestly I want to offer something else. Today’s publishing is not yesteryear’s. The culture is all about instant gratification and even one second of slow pace is going to have you thrown into the back shelf. I’m a huge LoTR fan, but I truly believe if it was published today it would have a lot harder time hooking readers.
So, let me give you a more recent novel that has some awesome world-building. This makes me want to shoot myself in the foot, because I hate this book’s ending, but it fits the bill, and that would be Orson Scott Card’s The Lost Gate. There is some hefty world-building in this novel and Card did an amazing job slipping the reader into it. If you’re still not sure, check out my book review here.
Very few novels get off the ground without some romantic element. Even if the romance in your story is slim and off in the corner somewhere, it better be there and it better be written well. Learn from the best how to develop tension and passion in your work.
Unfortunately my experience is currently limited to mostly YA paranormal romance such as Fallen and Twilight–yes I know I gagged too–which mainly consists of a sickeningly cute back and forth with a guy she wouldn’t want to take home to mama. I was entertained by these novels, namely because of the premise more than anything else, but there’s got to be something out there that really crawls into my heart and makes it bump like it did in Gone With the Wind. There’s got to be something modern with the same quality, right? When I find it, I’ll let you know.
Until then I can recommend by word-of-mouth these recent paranormal romances on my “to be read” list: The Time Traveler’s Wife and Rising (A Mermaid Romance, also Free as of this post!)
Goodreads classifies The Martian as Science Fiction, however it’s pretty realistic for a Sci-Fi and given how it kept me worried to death for Watney, I’d like to classify this as my recommendation for how to do suspense well, and you can see my book review here.
Also on my “to be read” list which are books that hinge on their ability to thrill: Hunger Games (Yes I saw the movie… now time for the book) and The Girl Who Played With Fire (I was excessively told I should read this so I’ll cave)
There are so many things to be learned from books, but I’ll stop the list here and add another blog post once I’ve read more books and have more to say! (See what I did there?)
Join me on Goodreads to see what I’m reading and share recommendations!