ten books that made me a better writer

tues10

This week’s BrokeandBookish Top 10 Tuesday  theme is a freebie, so I thought I would talk about some of the books that inspire me, books that I read and thought “YES. THIS. This is what I want to do: I want to write.”

1984-front tokill POA animalfarm belljar
illgiveyouthesun lord-of-the-rings-cover-design-3 watershipdownhitchhikers bookcover01

1. 1984, by George Orwell, for the exquisite use of the 3 act structure

Maybe because I read this book in a time where I was seriously and obsessively studying the three-act structure for novel writing, but I really appreciated being able to pinpoint the breaks of each act, the moment Plot Point 2 launched the second act into the third, the glide of the climax into the denouement — this book is a classic not only for its biting social commentary, but the fact that it is tightly written. It’s one of those books that makes you think, did this book endure because of the three-act structure that built its skeleton, or does the three-act structure as a model endure because of classics like this book?

2. To Kill A Mocking Bird, by Harper Lee, for the first sentence setting up the climax

I’ll say it again: the first sentence sets up the climax. The FIRST SENTENCE sets up the CLIMAX. Talk about tight, deliberate, masterful and purposeful writing!!! *weeps* *looks at own writing* *weeps more*

3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by JK Rowling, for the plot coming together like so many loose threads tying neatly into a bow

I went to a panel at a Harry Potter convention (I want to say it was Ascendio, but it might’ve been a Leaky Con?) that talked about plotting in PoA. The panelist showed us sections from the beginning of the book — Harry looking at the photograph of the Weasleys in Egypt, Scabbers the rat sitting on Ron’s shoulder; Ron plonking Scabbers onto the counter at the pet shop in Diagon Alley, and him looking careworn and very old, even missing a toe; someone mentioning that all they ever found of Peter Pettigrew after Sirius Black’s attack was one measly finger — and then she showed us the moment in the climatic Shrieking Shack scene when all these random clues sprinkled throughout the novel came together in one page, tying that story up tight. That’s the kind of writing you want! Where your ending has been meticulously set up by everything that came before it!

4. Animal Farm, by George Orwell, for the extended metaphor demonstrating how to expertly tell two stories at once

Orwell made the list twice, oops. But I was honestly so inspired by his books! Animal Farm was particularly great because of its allegorical structure. The story of the animals on the farm is emotional and chilling in and of itself, but the story gets really impressive when you appreciate that every single character, every set piece, every line of dialogue, and every action has two meanings — one related to the animals overtaking the farm, and the other pertinent to the extended metaphor about the Russian Revolution. It’s the meticulousness that blows me away. A lot of the time when someone tries to write something with obvious allegory or double meanings, it’s so clunky that it comes off as preachy and overbearing. Orwell avoids this masterfully.

5 & 6. The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath, and I’ll Give You The Sun, by Jandy Nelson, for the beautiful metaphors and imagery

“We wish with our hands, that’s what we do as artists.”
— I’ll Give You The Sun

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. […] I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
— The Bell Jar

These were absolutely intense, absorbing, mind-melting books to read (though they’re on starkly opposite sides of the emotional scale; Sun full of hope, while The Bell Jar leaves you feeling pretty desolate) and it was the metaphors, the analogies, the imagery these authors brought to life that make me itch to be able to do that with my own pen.

7 & 8. Watership Down, by Richard Adams, and Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien, for showing me that a book can be atmospheric and take a reader through the same emotional journey as the characters

When you read The Lord of the Rings, you feel like you’re plodding across Middle Earth. And at the end of Watership Down, I took a long, deep breath and felt the same calm release as Hazel. That’s an incredibly special experience and difficult to emulate as a writer — if you go too far, the reader’s bored and doesn’t really attach to the story; done well, though, the reader is viscerally tied to the book.

9. The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams, for showing the sheer linguistic gymnastics the English language is capable of somersaulting

“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.”

“He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.”

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”

I mean. Whenever I want to wake up my mind a little and stick an electric jolt into my creativity, Douglas Adams is a sure bet. (Honorary mention to Terry Pratchett as well.)

10. We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson, for showing how a short book can make every sentence not only count but be beautiful at the same time

There’s something about this book. I’ve talked about it on a few tags and lists already. It’s creepy, it’s concise, atmospheric and lyrical — it demonstrates that you don’t need hundreds and hundreds of pages to tell a story that leaves a lasting impression.

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Well, this is my list! What did you guys do for your Tuesday Top Ten? If you’re writers, are there any novels that inspired you to want to take up the pen? Or even as a reader, is there a book that’s so well written, or did some particular THING so well, you’ve never been able to quite get it out of your head? Leave a comment, let’s talk!

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28 thoughts on “ten books that made me a better writer

  1. rudejasper

    WOW! Really spectacular and eclectic list. I love how each book inspired you in a specific way – a writer’s perspective of the books is very cool. If these are your inspiration, I’m sure your writing is spectacular!

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  2. Sometimes reading a lot of books makes it hard to be a writer because when you love something you think “How could I ever write something this good?” It’s good to know these books inspired you instead!

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    1. Oooh, yes, I’ve had those slumps of total intimidation. You just have to push through the crippling feelings of inferiority and figure out what it was that made the book so amazing, and what you can learn from it!

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  3. Cait

    Oh I’ll Give You the Sun had a HUGE affect on me! I know I’ll never write like that…but but but….I just read it and got ALL inspired to write. x) So beautiful. So perfect. And TKAM is incredible too! one of my favourites. Ahhhh I don’t know which books inspired me to write…I guess everything by Maggie Stiefvater. Every time I read her books I’m insanely jealous at how awesome she is. xD And then I want to write characters as deep and realistic like she does. xD
    Here’s my TTT!

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    1. I’ve heard SO much about The Raven Boys, I need to read it! And yes, wasn’t I’ll Give You The Sun STUPIDLY BEAUTIFUL? It made me want to write and draw and SCULPT and just — DO ALL THE ART.

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  4. I love the diversity of the novels you included, Christina, and the range of reasons for choosing them. And I’m also happy in a very geeky way to see Harry Potter and LOTR on your list. 😉 I’m not sure which books I would pick if I made my own list on the same topic… Maybe that’s worth thinking about.

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    1. Oh, fantasy is my home planet, it’ll be some rare circumstances indeed that I compile a list that doesn’t pay tribute to my geeky overlords. I’m reading A Writer’s Guide to Harry Potter right now — if there’s one thing I love more than reading fantasy books, it’s dissecting them so I can better write one of my own. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I love it! Do you know if there’s any more information available online from that Prisoner of Azkaban panel, like slides? Because that sounds amazing, and I’m sorry I missed it!

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  6. This is really interesting, it makes me think more about the structure of what I read. I like that you told us specifically why these book made you a better writer and didn’t just give us a list of books.
    Thanks for visiting me today!

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    1. I’ve heard that becoming a writer makes you read books differently — which can be a good and bad thing, since you can’t really enjoy them anymore without totally dissecting them. But still, it’s good to be aware of the inner-workings of what you read and what does or doesn’t work!

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  7. This was such a fantastic topic choice, Christina! I’ve only read Harry Potter & the PoA from this list, and I feel like I need to reread it because I can’t remember anything you mentioned! But as a writer (and a reader), seeing all loose ends coming together and making sense is just fabulous. And books with amazing settings that really BRING you there are just the best. 🙂 I really should read Tolkien soon!

    Aimee @ Deadly Darlings

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  8. Pingback: Books & Blogging in May (a wild wrap up appears) | christina writes

  9. I went back to look through to Kill A Mockingbird again because I was curious about what you meant, and I’m sorry to say I don’t get it. I didn’t have much time to read all of it, but how did her brother breaking his arm lead up to the climax? It’s been a long time since I’ve read it, but you intrigued me enough to go back.

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    1. The climax of the story was Scout and her brother getting attacked and Jem getting his arm broken in the scuffle. Boo Radley, who they had always feared, saves them, solidifying the themes of tolerance and a person’s outward appearance not defining who they are inside. So, what was awesome, was that the very first sentence of the book is about Jem’s broken arm — the breaking of which is one of the final climactic scenes.

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      1. Oh my goodness I completely forgot about that! Thanks so much and sorry for my ignorance. I was thinking this whole time about the court case. My thought process: “Does this have something to do with the man not having a proper left arm..?”

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