“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Stephen King
“Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.”
—Larry L. King
“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”
Are you getting the picture yet? During my studying of the writing craft, I’ve come across this piece of advice time and time again: if you want to be a writer, READ.
One thing that I am loving about editing my manuscript is that as I’m going through it, I can sometimes tell exactly what I was reading at the time I was writing a particular part. For example, I was reading Lord of the Rings when I began to describe the foliage and nature on my fictional island. A professor once told me that Tolkien often refused to be photographed unless he was standing by a tree, and you can see Tolkien’s passion for nature in his writing. Prior to reading LOTR, I had described very little natural life in my work, and it was the reading of Tolkien’s works that helped add what is now an integral part of my setting.
There are plenty of works which have influenced the writing of my novel, and I’d like to list them here with the hopes that you will see the value in reading while writing. I wanted to write a book that I felt I would enjoy reading, and you’ll be able to tell from the following list that the types of books I like to read are primarily Gothic Romances and mysteries. I feel that reading them during the writing process, helped me accomplish this goal.
- The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield – This is the kind of book I want to write. It’s dark, dramatic, and just all kinds of wonderful.
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – A dark fairytale with a touch of madness, feminism, and horror.
- The Yellow Wall Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (available online if you click the hyperlink!) – Gothic, feminism, and madness (are you seeing a trend?)
- Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – Scarlett O’hara is one of the best written characters in the history of literature. I named my protagonist after her.
- Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – As mentioned above, nature writing and the building of the setting.
- Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin – Mystery elements and style; I couldn’t put this book down.
- The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and other stories by Arthur Conan Doyle – Mystery elements and characterization. I love the relationship between Watson and Holmes.
- Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruis Zafon – This one wasn’t my favourite, but it had a Gothic feel similar to The Thirteenth Tale.
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – Mr. Darcy and social divisions.
- Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier – This was the most frustrating read ever. It had all of the elements of the Gothic, but the suspense was taken away by the fact that the story begins at the end. It was incredibly anticlimactic and taught me what NOT to do in my own writing.
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – The cover of Gatsby actually inspired the whole premise of my novel; it takes place in a theme park.
- Othello by Shakespeare – Betrayal, manipulation, and the best villain in the history of literature.
- A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams – Madness, rape, 1950’s atmosphere, and a tragic power struggle.
- Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allen Poe – Poe is the true creator of the Sherlock character, except his stories are more Gothic.
- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – This one just breaks my heart so wonderfully in such a short amount of pages. I don’t think my manuscript has yet reached the point of causing heartbreak, but it is certainly a goal.
- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov – I have my villain toting around this book like the bible to foreshadow his inappropriate and violent infatuation with my protagonist.
- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – Madness and feminism.
- Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert – Self inflicted tragedy and adultery.
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – Moral questions, horror, tragic consequences.
- The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson – The human condition, mystery, and horror.
Those are the most of books which have influenced my manuscript, although, I am sure there are more. As you can see, there is a certain genre which appeals to me.
I didn’t realize that I’d written a mystery novel until a few weeks ago, but the books I read while writing shaped it into a mystery. I didn’t even realize that that was what I wanted! Now, I am delighted that my finished manuscript will fall into the genre of New Adult Mystery with a touch of the Gothic and supernatural. I have the books above to thank for inspiring the elements in my work that makes my manuscript something which I would enjoy reading.
Now, go read every book/short story/play on this list and revel in their wonderful Gothic darkness.