so good, they make me better

As I was reading The One You Really Want by Jill Mansell, I felt a sense of dread. I didn’t fear the fate of the characters because, even though the author put them in several formidable and embarrassing situations, I’m a fan of conflict and was confident she’d resolve everything to my satisfaction in good time. And it was also not because the plot was awful, the characters undeveloped, the pacing slow, or the dialogue stilted—exactly the opposite. The sense of alarm was a result of reading a fabulous book by an adept storyteller who, as far as I was concerned, did everything right. As an author, too, all I could think about was my own work in progress and how it was all wrong. Not all wrong, but not quite where it should be or where I wanted it to be. I spent the weekend modeling myself after Mansell—not imitating her style, copying her plot, or anything quite so nefarious, but spicing up the dialogue (Mansell is a master of dialogue), beefing up the humor, cutting out extra words, and fleshing out the characters as I’m sure she did painstakingly while writing The One You Really Love. I’m only on the first draft and my projects always improve with each revision, but even at this early stage, I know it is better and I owe it to Jill Mansell.

Theoneyoureallywant

This exercise got me thinking about other consummate authors who have unknowingly helped my writing.

 

For instance, Emily Giffin has taught me that even in light women’s fiction, characters don’t have to be all good or all bad. The main character, Rachel, in Giffin’s debut novel , Something Borrowed, managed to be likeable even while coveting (and sleeping with) her best friend’s fiancé. Giffin wrote the character in such a way that the reader experienced Rachel’s conflict right along with her. Rachel had loved Dex long before she basically threw him in Darcy’s lap. Giffin did the same thing with Ellen in Love The One You’re With (my favorite of her books). Ellen’s happily married to Andy, but is still drawn to Leo, the first man she truly loved (the one who broke her heart and whom she never quite forgot) when he comes back in the picture. Giffin does not encourage infidelity in the novel, but she creates a character many can relate to even if they are too ashamed to admit it. Ellen is human, not evil. Giffin strikes this human/flawed/likable balance with each and every novel she writes and it’s something I’ve kept in mind when writing my own novels where, as anyone who has read them knows, the characters are not perfect. Most specifically, my character Maggie in How Do You Know?  is in love with her long-term boyfriend Doug, but has her doubts he’s the one and desires time to figure things out before she makes a lifelong decision that will affect both of their lives. Maggie isn’t uncertain because she’s a selfish person, but because she can’t help it. Most human beings can’t control where their heart goes and I (along with Emily Giffin) don’t think fictional characters should have to either.

lovetheone

 

Another author I admire for her craft is Rainbow Rowell, who I consider to be my biggest author crush. I adore everything about Rainbow’s novels, from the quirkiness of her characters, to the swoony-worthy yet innocent romantic elements in her books, to the original worlds she creates. What stands out to me the most are the interactions between her characters, especially the ones who are romantically involved or at least want to be. Rowell has such a unique way of describing how the characters feel about each other, and it always feels very personal and intimate to me as a reader. In Landline, for instance, main character Georgie has this to say about her husband, Neal, in the first one percent of the novel: “When Neal smiled, he had dimples like parenthesis—stubbly parentheses. Georgie wanted to pull him over the breakfast bar and nose at his cheeks. That was her standard response to Neal smiling.” Reading that description, I knew instantly that Georgie loved Neal without being told. The characteristics that Georgie loves about Neal are very particular to him. Georgie loves Neal’s ears. Ears that were “a little too big, and they poked out at the top like wings. Georgie liked to hold his head by his ears. When he’d let her.” This description is specific to Neal and only Neal as opposed to a trait which could be used to describe just about anyone— he had beautiful eyes, full lips, a great butt, etc. Because it is so particular, it makes me believe the love Georgie feels for Neal runs deep. Rainbow Rowell does this consistently in her books and I love it! I squealed with delight when one of the teenage beta readers for my upcoming young adult novel, Kim vs. The Mean Girl, compared my book to Rowell’s Eleanor and Park. I can’t bring myself to agree, but this blog post has inspired me to be mindful to dig deep like Rainbow does.

landline

I’m sure there are others, but these three authors are currently at the top of my author-inspiration list. What about you? Whatever the activity, who inspires you to be better?

Thanks for reading! To return to the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP on Julie Valerie’s website, click here: http://www.julievalerie.com/fiction-writers-blog-hop-apr-2016

 

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Comments

  1. I write romantic suspense (my first comes out in July, and I’m 3/4 done with number two–oh wait…shouldn’t I be writing right now??). Kristan Higgins always inspires me to dip deep into emotion, even the throw-away thoughts we all have and might not even notice and to use them to imbue characters and scenes with every bit of emotion one can squeeze into them. Karen Rose and Lisa Kleypas make me turn off the writer and just get lost in the story, and that in itself is inspiration. I have to go back and reread those writers to find when I just turned off the editor and turned into a reader and to discover how achieved that. Then I know I have something to strive for. And outside strict romance-romantic suspense genres, JoJo Moyes and Suzanna Kearsley inspire me to create prettier sounding prose. I could go on and on.

  2. Yes! I have had exactly the same experience reading other authors books– and I think you’ve hit on something really key here, there trick is not to feel bad about your writing but to say “why does this work so well?” and then apply the lesson to your own work!

    Rachel in SOMETHING BORROWED is one of my favorite characters of all time, for the exact reasons you mention. I’ve also always admired Emily Giffin’s ability to write such beautifully flawed and human characters!

  3. Every author I read inspires me to be better. Whether I love them, hate them, and regardless of genre. It just makes me want to be a better writer.
    I’ve heard a bit about Rowell, but have never come across her. Might have to seek her out.

    • I used to simply read for pleasure, even after publishing several of my own novels. It’s only recently that I’ve been consciously learning so much from other authors. Perhaps I always have, but never noticed it before.

      I love Rainbow Rowell! She’s so original and quirky. Check her out!

  4. I love this post, Meredith. It highlights how important it is to READ while you WRITE. I learn so much from reading other writers. Lately, Maria Semple’s WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE has really spoken to me and I’ve read it four times in two months. I can’t say that reading her book has caused me to change anything in mine – just that it was so comforting to read a story about a mother slowly coming “undone” while living in a manic, high-achieving school mom world. It’s similar to the type of book I’ve written and I wish I could find more like it.

    I adore all of the writers you’ve mentioned in your post and I’d like to add Maria Semple, Helen Fielding, and Cecelia Ahern to the list. 🙂

    • I adored Where’d You Go, Bernadette! I can see why you’d like it. I’m pretty sure I’ve read a few novels lately that you might want to read. I’ll go through my TBR and see if I can remember.

      Reading Jill ManseIl hasn’t caused me to change my writing style, but it’s making me be hyper aware of bringing the funny. I’m reading one now and I have two more on my Kindle that I will probably read over the next months a) for enjoyment and b) to keep me on the right path!

  5. paulinewiles says:

    Agreed – so often, I’m reading something and am totally daunted by the fantastic setting / high stakes / phenomenally detailed characters. But I guess the first step on the ladder is to be able to spot this stuff, even if I can’t quite pull most of it off.
    I remember reading Giffin’s “Heart of the Matter” and being totally torn by the love triangle. And yes, Rachel was entirely empathetic, too!

    • I was torn as well. I love love triangles that make me think. Most are so obvious. I find myself daunted by some storytellers as well. I read a saga recently that was so deeply layered, I was blown away.

  6. What a great post! It’s so true that so many books we read teach us new things and make us rethink our way of writing and our work. I love Jill Mansell and have read all her books and really understand that she inspires you.

  7. Thanks for the recommendations, Meredith. I love when an author can show us multiple sides of a character. As you said, no one is all good or all bad, and because I’m a person who prefers character-driven novels to plot-driven, one-dimensional characters are an immediate turn-off for me.

  8. Another vote for Kristan Higgins here! She makes it look SO easy! And although I don’t read a lot of NA, I have enjoyed Rainbow Rowell’s work. Off to put Jill Mansell on my list–!

  9. Now I really want to read “the one you really want” and the Rainbow Rowell books in my TBR.

  10. I love this! When working on revisions for my last book, I felt I did my best revisions after reading Colleen Hoover. I struggle at times with inner dialogue, and I found when I read a chapter of her book, I knew the exact places in mine to expand. Perfect!

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