I haven’t read too many books on writing. Personally, I find more use from actual courses which allow for real writing and critique. However, I do still read to write. I just read novels.
If you want to write journalism, read newspapers and web articles. If you want to write biographies, read biographies. If you want to write novels, read novels.
My first and biggest literary inspiration was Frank Peretti, a Christian writer who showed me that Christian writing need not be cheesy or silly, and that even on-the-nose messages can be well-written and impactful. Peretti is a master of suspense and weaving intricate plots that keep you flying through the pages.
J.K. Rowling and Brandon Sanderson showed me that fantasy can be accessible, and even though each have strong, fleshed-out worlds, I never felt lost like I did in the complex tomes of Tolkein. Brent Weeks was somewhere in the middle, a rich, expansive world but also one that new where to focus and how. Neil Gaiman showed me that sometimes the best fantasies aren’t explained (The Ocean at the End of the Lane).
That’s the kind of fantasy I wanted to write. I wanted to create worlds, but not eons of lore. I wanted more accessible fantasy–it’s simply my style and if you like Tolkein and Martin, that’s fine. One of the greatest compliments I ever got was from a fantasy fan who said my book was fast-paced in a world of slow-moving fantasies.
However, I don’t think a genre author should only read one genre, but take pieces from others. Books like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Help, Anne of Green Gables, A Christmas Carol, and more gave me rich character study, all of which inspired and changed my stories completely.
When I write fantasy, the fantasy often serves as a backdrop more than a true genre.
In Ferryman, the superhuman aspects are fun, but they’re also are a way for me to talk about prejudice, fear, and the joy of freedom.
In Rise, the fantasy is merely an opportunity for the hero to grow from boy to man and from coward to warrior, to cleave from his parents and become his own person.
In Locke Hart, the superhero story allows me to question and inspect Christianity from the inside and examine themes like violence, propriety, sex, hypocrisy, and struggle, most of which aren’t seen in Christian novels.
This is not a new thing. All great fantasy has honed in on the human aspect and it’s outshined the fantasy–though the world of the fantasy helps illustrate this.
Heck, back to my favorites: The Night Angel Trilogy weighed the importance of life through immortality. Mistborn showed the importance and frailty of trust in a frightening world. Harry Potter touched on every human theme imaginable–love, friendship, family, loss, forgiveness, hatred, maturity, and so on.
When I want to know the rough mechanics of castle life or fairy lore or swordsmanship or physics, or religious histories, or anything like that, I’ll do my research. Every writer must.
But for me, the greatest instruction comes through reading novels. Reading about novels is a helpful commentary at best.
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