As writers we go on learning all the time – if we didn’t, our writing would soon become static – and there’s no better source of learning than from within the pages of other peoples’ books. Reading, especially for a ‘new’ writer, has an added appeal because of the possibilities of what we might glean from it. This is my experience, anyway, and I’d like to share with you here some of the things I’ve learned through my own reading.
From Lisa Jewell I learned to cut the self-indulgent meanderings and crack on with the story, and from Hannah Richell’s Secrets of the Tides how having each chapter represent a certain viewpoint makes for clarity of structure in a multi-pov novel.
JoJo Moyes’ Me Before You taught me that high-concept novels are, probably, the easiest to plot – if only I could think of one – but that I’m far too lazy ever to tackle a subject that requires that much research.
I learned from Sebastian Faulks’ Engleby that a deeply flawed character can still be a sympathetic one, and from the Great God Ian McEwan (I may well kiss the ground in front of him if ever we chance to meet!) I’ve learned to be myself.
I’m reading now The Soldier’s Wife by Joanna Trollope. I’ve always loved her writing and watched how it’s changed over the years from the high-end romantic fiction known fondly as ‘Aga sagas’ through to novels that are more concerned with the wider issues of relationships and quite literary in style.
From Joanna I’ve learned an important lesson – to me the most important – which is that good writing is all about subtlety; The Soldier’s Wife reminds me of that. The key is to worm your way deep into your character’s psyche, don’t just know them but be them, see the world not only through their eyes but through their innermost thoughts and feelings – and then convey to your readers those thoughts and feelings in as few words as possible. I’ll repeat that. In as few words as possible.
This for me is the hallmark of good writing. Nothing is over-written, over-described or over-explained; in fact there is often no explanation at all. But from a few precisely chosen words the reader will know, and will obtain far more satisfaction in knowing rather than being told.
Your experience may be different, of course. I’d love to hear your views, and in particular which books or writers have been the most inspirational to you as a writer and why.