Most everyone has a favorite author or at least a favorite book. Some like Stephen King and refer to him as the master of horror. Some like Jodi Picoult and her stories of life and love and how the two are nothing without each other. Authors really have an amazing task when it comes to putting words together into stories. They have to create characters and voices that connect with people on so many different levels. It’s no easy task and only true masters of the craft (aka those who just practice their craft a lot) can create voices that help shape the dreams of simple bloggers into becoming published writers.
This week’s Weekly Writing Challenge has me thinking about my favorite authors and how they shaped me into the bookworm and aspiring published writer that I am today. The list of authors who have influenced me is long but each one left me with something, a trick or a style or a voice, that has helped me work on shaping my own unique style.
Sharing this list should be fun because there are so many great authors out there, the list is never truly complete. I’m going to go with my top five (in no particular order) for the sake of keeping this post from becoming a novel in and of itself.
His rhyming skills legend.
His lessons are gold,
He teaches you things
In ways that are bold.
Your words were made up
And characters deep,
I raise up my cup
And salute your great feats!
(I also apologize at my poor attempt to rhyme. I hope you are not rolling in your grave, Dr. Seuss.)
― Dr. Seuss, There’s a Wocket in My Pocket!
Cat’s Cradle was the first Vonnegut book I read. I couldn’t put it down. It was amazing. I had never read a book that was written like that. More made up words, subtle sarcasm written (sometimes) between the lines, and characters who just said what they thought. There were no niceties, no flowery descriptions that went on for pages. I remember then devouring Slaughterhouse Five and finding it fascinating: the tragedy of Dresden, the time-traveling aliens, life, death. “So it goes.” The way his protagonists saw the world, the way he saw the world, I felt like he had given me new eyes. My task was to now try to give that vision a voice. God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut.
“America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves…. It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
From the first time The Old Man and The Sea was assigned to me to the last time I re-read A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, I cannot express how much I love this man’s ability to create such amazing dialogue. The words just flow like you’re listening to the conversation rather than reading it. Writing dialogue like that is something I have always wanted to be able to do. I know he was jaded but, that is why his dialogue was so fantastic. He took what he heard and saw, the things that made him jaded as well as made him feel alive, and put those conversations down. It can be an inner monologue or a conversation had in a jeep – wherever the words are coming from, they are the center of the story. The conversation between the characters is the most important thing he created. I find that when I write, I focus on that dialogue. I want it to be an integral part of any story. I think that it’s the best way to find out about a character. Yes, getting inside their head is fun but in real life, we only know what’s going on inside our own head. Reading good dialogue written in the third person point of view is like you’re listening in on a conversation at a table next to you in a restaurant.
“I have never seen or heard of such a fish. But I must kill him. I am glad we do not have to try to kill the stars.” Imagine if each day a man must try to kill the moon, he thought. The moon runs away. . . . Then he was sorry for the great fish that had nothing to eat and his determination to kill him never relaxed in his sorrow for him. . . . There is no one worthy of eating him from the manner of his behavior and his great dignity. I do not understand these things, he thought. But it is good that we do not have to try to kill the sun or the moon or the stars. It is enough to live on the sea and kill our true brothers.”
― Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea
The woman brought two glasses of beer and two felt pads. She put the
felt pads and the beer glasses on the table and looked at the man and the
girl. The girl was looking off at the line of hills. They were white in the sun
and the country was brown and dry.
“They look like white elephants,” she said.
“I’ve never seen one,” the man drank his beer.
“No, you wouldn’t have.”
” I might have,” the man said. “Just because you say I wouldn’t have
doesn’t prove anything.”
The girl looked at the bead curtain. “They’ve painted something on it,”
she said. “What does it say?”
“Anis del Toro. It’s a drink.”
“Could we try it?”
The man called “Listen” through the curtain. The woman came out
from the bar.
“We want two Anis del Toro.”
“Do you want it with water?”
” I don’t know,” the girl said. “Is it good with water?”
“It’s all right.”
– Ernest Hemingway, Hills Like White Elephants
To this day, The Lottery is one of the most haunting stories I have ever read. Even when I re-read it, despite knowing the ending (which I will not give away for those who haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading it), I still find myself in awe of the twists and turns this plot takes its reader on. There is something to be said about a good plot twist. Shirley Jackson wrote one of my most favorite plot twists of all time. I compare most of them to this one story. Even in the Haunting of Hill House, the characters not only find themselves in a ghost story, they find themselves looking inward. I really just love a good story and she is fantastic at proving just that. I can only hope that someday I will have one of those great twists in something I write.
“She had taken to wondering lately, during these swift-counted years, what had been done with all those wasted summer days; how could she have spent them so wantonly? I am foolish, she told herself early every summer, I am very foolish; I am grown up now and know the values of things. Nothing is ever really wasted, she believed sensibly, even one’s childhood, and then each year, one summer morning, the warm wind would come down the city street where she walked and she would be touched with the little cold thought: I have let more time go by.”
― Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House
A good man may be hard to find, but a good writer is even more elusive. Flannery O’Connor’s short stories present a world where the South is home to many moral and right characters. Opposite those characters are the morally corrupted and just completely disturbed people. A lot of her works involved a personal transformation, mainly influenced by her deep Catholic beliefs and the notion that God is everywhere. O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find is the first story I remember reading that introduced me to foreshadowing. It was known as her forte and I love finding little clues in everything I read now thanks to her. She also had a wonderful sense of irony and it made the stories so much more rich in their meanings.
“Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to never was there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it. Where is there a place for you to be? No place.
Nothing outside you can give you any place,” he said. “You needn’t look at the sky because it’s not going to open up and show no place behind it. You needn’t to search for any hole in the ground to look through into somewhere else. You can’t go neither forwards nor backwards into your daddy’s time nor your children’s if you have them. In yourself right now is all the place you’ve got. If there was any Fall, look there, if there was any Redemption, look there, and if you expect any Judgment, look there, because they all three will have to be in your time and your body and where in your time and your body can they be?”
― Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood
If you want to talk about your favorite authors and how they influenced your voice and your writing, why not check out this fun challenge. If anything, it’s an interesting thing to think about if you enjoy writing or if you enjoy reading. Why do you enjoy an author? What is it about their stories that keeps you reading on? What would you like to see in your writing? Writers are readers and readers learn from other writers. I know that these writers have taught me so much about the trade and done so by giving me some of the best stories I have ever read. Who has taught you?