Thursday, October 7, 2010

Five Books That Have Inspired Me as a Writer

Since I seem to be obsessed with lists, I've decided to compile a small selection of the books that have influenced me most as a writer. Keep in mind that these are not my favorite books (though some of them are). But each one uniquely affected my personal voice and style.

1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I know this is an obvious choice and P&P is every girl with half a brain's favorite book. But I love Jane Austen with all of my heart and soul. I feel that we would have been BFFs back in the days of never using anyone's first names (ie Mr. Darcy, Miss Bennett, etc.) and empire waste gowns that make you look pregnant. Jane's biting social observations and superlative witty banter, not to mention an understanding of unstated sexual tension, are unmatched. Then there is of course Elizabeth Bennett herself, who is quite possibly my favorite character of all time. We all know how awesome she is, especially when it comes to fighting zombies. So suffice to say that I've read this book over and over, seen both the 5-hour BBC mini-series and the 2005 Keira Knightly version countless times, and I never get sick of the lush language and complicated characters. It inspires me to comment on the world around me and create a timeless satire of society's foibles.

2. The Princess Bride by William Goldman. As truly epic as the movie is, the book is ten times better. But what made this book so intriguing to me as a writer was the author's copious usage of completely random parenthetical phrases. (ie "This was before the invention of chocolate, but after the beheading of Mary, Queen of Scots" or whatever. Something like that.) As you have probably noticed by now, I use parentheticals like crazy. It's probably annoying, but it's how I talk and how I think, so naturally it's how I write. So if William Goldman can get away with it, so can I!

3. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. It was so honest, even ugly at times, but Sylvia never backed away from sharing her experiences down the rabbit hole of depression and insanity. Her descriptions are so vivid and you almost understand the thought process of her unstable heroine/alter ego. What impressed me most too was the stream of consciousness style in which the book is written. Not only was it perfect for the content of the story and the voice of the character, but I also write this way because it feels more free to set on paper almost the exact thoughts that occur in your head.

4. How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely. I just read this recently and it figuratively rocked my world. Very rarely do I laugh out loud while reading, and this book had me cackling maniacally to the point where I'm sure my neighbors were frightened. Not only was the dry, sarcastic and at times completely outrageous humor dead on, but the book's slacker antihero learned a valuable lesson without the Full House-type moment of realization music cue. What I took away from it was the concept of voice. You can tell the same story a million different ways if you have a strong enough character with a distinctive voice that people can relate to. Seriously, read this NOW.

5. The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer. If she can do it and make millions, anyone can. But seriously, I learned from this that if you tap into a primal part of the human psyche (in this case the adolescent girl in all of us that loves a dangerous, brooding bad boy), it almost doesn't matter how bad the writing, characters, and story structure (or lack thereof) are. You'll still make millions. But if you have any writing talent at all, already you've surpassed Ms. Meyer. So feel good about yourself, even if you never sell a single book.

There are hundreds more books that have inspired me and helped shape the writer I (try to be) today. But I don't feel like googling all those images, and it's time for Grandma Hutch to get to bed. Cocktails + Panasian Appetizers + Girl Talk = Sleepy Hutch!

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