Thursday, June 3, 2010

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery - Writing What you Read

Pepper, the title wizard got the creative juices flowing and invented this title- thanks!! What would I do without you??

Okay, I loooooove to read. It is never ending. Like tentacles extending from my body, my hands and brain just doesn't know what to do if I don't have a book to read. I wanted to read 100 books before December 31st and as of today I have read 92. Hmmmm. Think I'll make it? Do you think I LIKE to read?? More like love. : )

On an average I read between 3 and 5 books a week. And from those books that I have read, I have found many different styles and genres, all prompting me to want to write like that.

One of the best pieces of advice that I have ever been given is to write what you read. Now you might thinks this borders on plagiarism, but it is the farthest thing from the truth. Like Sherrinda talked about in Ditto Writing, there are no new ideas, no new stories, only your new take. Even if you took the exact same era, setting and idea, you would come up with a completely different story. That is what makes each of us unique and special in the eyes of God.

So join me for a few minutes as I explore my book shelves and journey through each book, dissecting why I like each one and why I would like to write like that particular author.

So first up: Double Trouble by Susan May Warren.

There is hardly anything I don't like about the writing style of Susan. Her witty dialogue, snazzy characters and intriguing plots keep me riveted to the page. Her humor and ability to make me laugh make me excited to read each of her new books. The serious side of her fiction always makes me dig a bit deeper inside myself and explore how I could write like this.

But what really draws me to the page are her characters and their insane ability to always say what I least expect them to.

Whenever I read a book by Susie, I look at her word construction, wordsmithing her story to paint a vivid mental image. I really study her word choice. Instead of saying a "twenty dollar bill" she calls it an Andrew Jackson. Makes you think, huh?

Her dialogue is witty and filled with what you least expect the character to say. So what can my character say that is completely within character, but will shock my reader? She enters the character's persona herself, bringing me along with her. There is nothing left untouched when she enters the world of PJ Sugar.

Next up is: A Passion Most Pure by Julie Lessman
Okay, who DOESN'T want to write like Julie??? Okay maybe a lot of people, because she is truly one of kind and some just aren't cut out for romance. : )

But I love romance. I love to read a good wholesome Christian romance and I would love to write it. So what I hope to take away the most from Julie's fiction is her ability to make my blood heat. What does she incorporate to make each scene sizzle with more dramatic and emotional tension?

Now I'm not cut out to write the epic romances that Julie does so well, but for the little bit of romance I want my novel to have, her books will be the first I will turn to.

Next is Hidden Places by Lynn Austin

This has to be my favorite book of all time. I have read it through three times and is the only novel I believe my dad has ever read straight through twice. : )

Lynn crafts characters. Real live one with flaws, struggles and skeletons buried so deep in their closest that it takes nearly 400 pages to dig them out.

I remember the very first time I read Hidden Places. The story and the writing kept me riveted to the page. The story world was vivid, the characters amazingly crafted until now, years after I have turned the last page, I still turn to Aunt Batty as the most memorable character I have read.

But what I hope to someday emulate in my first fiction from Lynn is her ability to portray the human condition and amazing ability to incorporate back story. Her characters are flawed with serious need for help and as they come to that conclusion of their need for a Savior, they grow and move forward into better people. If I can show a characters growth and understanding of their place in the world and their need for forgiveness, all while painting a vivid picture in the reader's mind, then I will have done my job well. And while Lynn's style is all her own, her detailed back story is an inspiration for my own writing.

Next up is The Frontiersman's Daughter by Laura Frantz

I still haven't decided just how to truly follow in Laura Frantz's footsteps. I have stepped away from historical fiction for the time being, but even in contemporary, I can take things I have learned from this book and put it into mine.

And I think the most I took away from this novel, is the author's ability to draw me in with her words. She painted a dream for me, until I could not put this book down. In one scene the heroine, Lael is dreaming, but I don't know that. And I was so shocked at the sudden turn of events I stayed up past my bedtime to find out what in the world was going on!

Most dream sequences are easily detected, this one, not so. And if I can do that with my reader. Throw a complete loop their way with the simple elegance of my words, that for me personally will be the greatest pleasure.

Next is A Constant Heart by Siri Mitchell

I love Siri Mitchell's ability to draw the reader in with facts about the particular era, without the knowledge becoming tacked on and stale in the course of the novel.

But detail doesn't have to apply to just historical. The wider and deeper you read, the more these details may play into your contemporary. Knowing history and what you can learn from it, will make your fiction richer and take it's surroundings to another level. Just because you learn something, doesn't mean that you talk about, but if you character knows and understand something that happened in the past, it may affect how they act in the present.

Siri has also impacted how I am writing today. All of her books (at least that I have read) are written in first person, just like my novel and she does it seemlessly. Something I want to capture in my fiction.

Almost Forever by Deborah Raney

Deb is one of my favorite authord in today's contemporary fiction. Being a new writer of women's fiction, she is the model I try to emulate when I write.

Her books evoke deep emotions and delve into topics that stir my soul all the while delivering a story that entertains and keeps me riveted.

What I love about Deb's fiction is it's life. Plain and simple. She portrays normal characters in normal life, thrown into circumstances that either bring out the best or the worst in them. And in the end she always brings a strong faith message into the character and readers lives.

If I can write a story that grips the emotions, that packs a punch that makes the reader dig deeper into themselves than I would be thrilled. A book that evokes emotion, no matter the emotion (as long as you aren't throwing the book across the room) is a book that will often be remembered the longest and have the biggest impact.

One of my favorite historical books is The Lady of Milkweed Manor by Julie Klassen
Julie has the amazing ability to bring the setting directly before my eyes. I see the surroundings, I sense the smells, see the sights, feel the emotions. Never has a book taken me directly to the middle of the story world before. That combined with a great story makes the book unforgettable for me.

I still need to portray storyworld to the highest sense. (That among other lessons) But to be able to paint such a vivid picture of the world the characters live in is an amazing ability. To be able to sprinkle it in through the story until without being aware of it, you are suddenly there. And there is no turning back.
Now my last book (I could go on forever, but decided I would save one of the best for last): The Familiar Stranger by Christina Berry

This is truly the book that inspired the novel I am writing right now. When I read this book a month ago, I knew that I wanted to write a book that riveting. A book that left the reader breathless while reading. A book that never dropped the pace, but kept getting worse and worse until I wasn't sure where I was going to be able to breathe again.

That is the kind of book that drives me to write. That inspires me. I wanted to write a book with an intimate view of a character by going at first person, and The Familiar Stranger gave me a glimpse into that world.

If I could point at any one book that inspired my current WIP and made me write to the best of my ability that would be the one.

So in summery, if I could take Susan May Warren's characters and snazzy dialogue, the romance of Julie Lessman, the ability to portray back story and the human condition of Lynn Austin. The dreamlike ability from Laura Frantz, the intricate details and first person from Siri Mitchell, the emotional impact and faith journey of Deborah Raney, the sensory details of Julie Klassen and the inspiration of Christina Berry-- if I could cobble all of those elements along with my own voice and ability to put words on paper, I will have the novel of my dreams. I will have the novel that speaks from my heart. The novel that truly brings out my own voice.

I have other favorites, Terri Blackstock, Kathyn Cushman, Tamera Alexander, Janette Oke, Beverly Lewis, Cindy Woodsmall, MaryLu Tyndall and the list goes on and on. And all of these authors are contributing to what kind of writer I am becoming.

Because that is what writing is all about. With every book you read and love, there are going to be elements of that story that you will want to incorporate into your novel. Even though I am not writing historical fiction right now, I can look at the author's ability to put words on paper. At the lyrical sound of their pen on paper. I can break down the word choice, the way the story is structured and so on. Your greatest teachers are going to be the novels you know and love. Because only through truly experiencing the make believe world another author creates, will you learn how to make your own.

So what do you read? Are you pulled towards a particular genre? Do you like elements of the fiction you read that you that you wish to incorporate into your novel? Don't be shy to share!


Diane said...

Quite the lineup. I only own one of them. Will have to look into others. :O)

Julia M. Reffner said...

Great reviews. I am a big-time Lynn Austin fan, but haven't read Hidden Places. I guess I will have to pick that one up soon.

Mia said...

Great post, Casey. I think the books we read definitely impact our writing in a big way. Not to mention, we can learn so much from the pros, by studying their writing and gathering inspiration from their novels. I must admit, I've never read any of the books you mentioned, but I do love other books by some of the authors on your list.

I read books from nearly every genre because I like the variety. Erynn Mangum probably had one of the biggest effects on my writing. I don't write chick lit, or even romance, but I finished her book, and thought, someday I want to write that well. I've read and reread Lori Wick's books more times than I can count. Dee Henderson, Susan Page Davis, Susan May Warren, Terri Blackstock... so many authors have influenced my writing :) Can you tell I love to read?

rbooth43 said...

I am reading a book written by my cousin, Lilly Gayle. This is her first book, OUT OF DARKNESS.
These reviews are included in her book.
Praise for Lilly Gayle
"If you're looking for an edge-of-your-seat paranormal, OUT OF DARKNESS is an enthralling story that combines the best of suspense with a sexy vampire romance. The unexpected plot turns will leave you breathless and aching with sympathy for Vincent's tragic and utterly real desire to be human, made even more desperate by the unbidden love growing for Megan. OUT OF DARKNESS is a compelling and satisfying read in one of my favorite genres."
~Amy Corwin, author of I Bid One American ans Outrageous Behavior
~"Lilly Gayle is an exciting new voice in the world of paranormal romance. ~Jenna Black
I am so proud of my cousin. Her website is


Casey said...

Diane, those are all great books and get 5 stars in my opinion. Great stories one and all. :) Well worth checking out. :)

Casey said...

Oh Julia, you simple MUST get Hidden Places. My favorite novel (okay ONE of my favorite novels) of all time!!

Casey said...

Mia, I am the exact same way. I read historical, suspense (not a lot, but some), romance, women's fiction, chick lit and so on. I just love to read. ;) I don't know what I would do if I didn't have books.

Casey said...

Rbooth, congrats to your cousin! How much fun must that be to read a book written by family. So excited for her (and you!)

Pepper said...

Great post, Casey. I am inspired by other writers. Julie Lessman's books are very much my writing style for historicals (my writing STYLE, I do not come near to being as good a writer as she is, you understand)

I'm reading Deeanne Gist's new book Maid to Match right now, and I've already highlighted several sentencees where her turn of phrase is beautiful. I won't copy it, but the feel of the sentence inspires me to search out similiar 'feel's in my writing.

Btw, I have less 'reading' and 'writing' time on vacation than I do during a typical day. Sad, I know, but when you're wrangling 5 younguns in a 'new' place near lots of water - writing becomes secondary. We're having loads of fun, though :-)

Casey said...

Oh so glad you stopped by to visit, Pepper! Have a great time, we miss you!!

I know what you mean on style, I am the same way with Susan May Warren. I love her turn of phrases and she really inspires me to write better.

Laura Frantz said...

Casey, I can't thank you enough for listing me with such wonderful company here:) It's so interesting to hear what you, as a writer and reader, are thinking regarding what makes a book sing. Your examples are wonderful. I'm learning right along with you! I would dearly love to read as many books as you do a week. Shame on me! This is such a great blog - kudos to you all!

Casey said...

I meant every word Laura! Thank you too. :) I am not the only writer/ reader seeing these things in fiction, I heard this story once (don't remember where) where this person read a book, talked about it on an on line chat room about how he recognized the author's agenda in the book and said and I quote "gag me with a spoon!"

What amazes me is that you don't have to be a writer to pick up on these things, normal readers do it every day. Gives me a great deal of faith in my reader to "get it".

LOL on the books I read, well, my mom might have a thing to or two to say about that. I just happen to probably read more than I should. A-hem. Don't tell anyone I said that. ;)

Thanks for stopping by!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Great post Casey! You include my favorites as well.
I took the challenge to read 100 books last year. Here is what I learned, when you seek to read 100 books and push for it, you'll probably read more! I ended up with 120+ books read and loved the project. Hope you are liking yours as well.

Christina Tarabochia said...

Casey, I'm almost speechless! Thank you, thank you ... and you are right: I've never felt more flattered than when reading such wonderful descriptions of great books only to find mine on the list. :)

Casey said...

LOL Mary, yes I think 100+ books will definately be accomplished this year. And though I know I have the total pretty much in the bag, I still push forward on the reading. I just don't know how to stop! Bookaholics Anonymous just might be in my future. *grin*

Casey said...

Oh thank you for stopping by Christina!! What an honor to have you here!! It is my pleasure and I meant every word, that book truly is an inspiration and I think of it often while writing-- or least when I think of my story and how to add tension. :)

Lilly Gayle said...

Thank you for such wonderful praise! I hope I don't disappoint. And thanks for sending me this link. Great site.

Krista Phillips said...

Great post, Casey! I learn a TON about writing from reading others books--I think you can almost learn more about writing well by reading in your genre than reading craft books sometimes (although those are important too...)

Christina... (aka super secret spy agent) You totally deserve mention:-)

Karen Lange said...

I love historical fiction and enjoy the authors you mentioned. I agree, so much can be learned by reading, particularly the genre that we want to write. Have a wonderful weekend, all! :)

Casey said...

Lily, thanks for stopping by and I am so glad you like the blog. Congrats on the new book, I am sure you must be thrilled. :)

Casey said...

SO GLAD you like the post, Krista, it means a lot when you and the other ladies here like it. :) I love to read and I love learning as I do so, makes it seem less like work. All we all can use less of that right?? :P

Casey said...

Karen, I like to genre hop (can't ya tell??), but I agree I learn so much more when I base my reading in those books of my chosen genre, I have gotten to where I would rather read contemporay than historical where it used to be the other way around. Though I still like historical, contemp is where I am moving. :)

Thanks for visiting and spending a few minutes with us!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Oh Casey!!! This was sooo good! I so wish I could read alot like you are able to. Life gets in the way. But isn't it wonderful that we can read these fabulous authors and be inspired to somehow write something as entertaining and rewarding as what they write! What inspiration!

Deborah Raney said...

What a great article, and what an HONOR to be listed among these great writers. Thank you, Casey, for all you've done to elevate Christian fiction and to encourage Christian authors. I appreciate you so much!

Casey said...

Thank you Sherrinda, that a lot that you like it. :) I agree, fabulous authors make my world go 'round. Makes learning a breeze. :)

Casey said...

Oh Deb, what a honor that you stopped by, thank you so much!! I appreciate YOU Deb and to know that I encourage you means so much to me, you're one of the best!!

Julie Lessman said...

Casey ... I just got home from vacation (without INTERNET --YIKES!!) so I am late to the party, but thank you for including me among this great list of authors -- I am blessed! Thank you, thank you!!