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Reading can be a great way to improve your writing. Reading both in and out of your preferred genre can broaden you knowledge of writing and improve your writing skills. As you read, you pick up on things the author did well, and also things they did… not so well. You learn things you like and dislike when it comes to story-telling.
When I started writing, I became a different kind of reader. Before, I read just to experience and consume. Now, I pay attention. Sentence structure. Paragraph layout. Storyline. Character details. Everything. I take note of what I need to improve on (foreshadowing) and things I need to avoid (slow-moving plot).
Below, I have cultivated a few books/series that greatly impacted my writing. From world building to character development, these books taught me a lot about how I want to write my stories.
I hope this list can help you, as well!
The Remnant Chronicles
& Dance of Thieves
Mary E Pearson paints an incredibly vivid and believable world in the Remnant Chronicles, which continues several years later with the Dance of Thieves duology. I loved both of these series, though I prefer the initial trilogy because I felt the pacing was better.
To be honest, the story in the Dance of Thieves duology felt a little forced and unnecessary to me, though I enjoyed it for what I believe Pearson does best: World Building.
World Building, for the newbies out there, is the process of creating your own world for your story. Culture, language, religions, behaviors, plant life, animal life, I could go on, but you get the point. Pearson has created such a vivid and believable world. She even went as far as creating a language and writing poems from some religious texts.
When I started writing my first book (as yet unpublished, though actively searching for agents), I took note of the way she described her landscape, and how the characters interacted with it. At one point, the main character travels across the desert to another land. You can almost feel the heat on your skin, the soreness in your limbs, the chafing of the rope on your wrists.
Her descriptions of the world are so immersive, you can’t help but be sucked in. This is taken even further by not only having a religion, but multiple religions unique to each culture. This is way more believable than a world-wide religion that everybody knows everything about.
Think about our world. How many religions are there? And within one “religion,” how many different sets of beliefs can people practice? How many practitioners of the same exact religion have every piece of knowledge about said religion?
You could see how the religions would have evolved over time. I won’t go into too many details for those who haven’t read it, but this is a post-apocalyptic world, and you can imagine how their “gods” might have come about, how pre-apocalyptic technology would have been viewed as magic, how nuclear missiles could have been misconstrued for stars centuries later.
I highly recommend The Remnant Chronicles, both for enjoyment, and as a form of research for your own writing. If you struggle with world building, or if you are just interested in learning more, these books are an incredible example for you to take note of.
The Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo is also a great example for world building for many of the same reasons I listed for The Remnant Chronicles. The culture and religions, the vivid nature of Leigh’s writing, it sweeps you up so thoroughly it can be easy to forget you’re reading!
What I though she did exceptionally well with this duology (better than Shadow & Bone, sorry) is the way she built her characters. She wrote from multiple points of view (POV) throughout these books, and they never blurred together. You could really believe that each character had their own set of wants and desires, goals, fears, likes and dislikes.
She not only made them unique, but also included traits in each character that the reader could identify with. Kaz and Inej were both survivors. They had undergone immense trauma, but rose from the ashes stronger for it. Where Kaz went hard and shut people out, Inej sought compassion and goodness, a higher power. I think everyone can identify with one or both of those on some level.
Each and every character was unique and believable. That’s the other issue you can sometimes run into with character building. Making them unique is one thing, but do the feel real? Can you look at their behavior and say, “oh yeah, I can see why she would say that” or “he’s acting that way because of______”.
This was especially difficult for me in my writing, making sure that each character was unique and not just supporting the protagonist’s goal, but actually having goals of their own. If you want to learn more about character development (and read an awesome book) I highly recommend the Six of Crows duology.
The Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor follows in line with the excellent world building and character development of The Remnant Chronicles and Six of Crows. You can see Laini put a great deal of time and research into her story and her characters. It’s beautifully done.
More than that, for me, what stood out in this book was the writing. My God, the writing. I felt romanced by words. Laini was seranading me while I sat on my couch, sweats sticking to my skin as I flicked through page after page.
I felt like I was reading poetry, but way more exciting. Not that poetry can’t be exciting, but it has this gripping plot to go with it. Angst. Passion. Fear. Joy. Love. Daughter of Smoke and Bone had all of those and more. Between the incredible story (seriously, Laini is so creative) and the epic prose, I was hooked from cover to cover.
That’s something I strive for in my writing. Story is important, but there’s so much more. Good writing comes with practice, and I’ll be the first to admit I have way more to learn, but mimicking her writing style and the fluidity of her words is a huge goal of mine.
I maybe, kinda, sorta, just a wee-tiddly-bit idolize her.
I definitely recommend this series to people who need to work on sentence structure and overall beautification of words. Laini will expand your vocabulary and melt your heart with her inspiring use of language.
I’m gushing. I’ll stop now.
Seriously, read her books.
OK now I’m really done.
Sarah J Maas is basically the benchmark of good fantasy, or at least that’s popular opinion. I will admit, I was swept up by the Throne of Glass series. I haven’t read all her other books yet, though I’m almost done with ACOTAR, but they are sitting on my shelf waiting for me! She’s definitely an author I always buy.
She may not have the beautiful prose of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, but the story is fantastic. She has all the things, friends. All. The. Things. Good writing. Excellent story. Relatable, developed characters. Twists and turns. Maybe a wee bit of spice…
But what really got me about this story, and the reason she is on my list, is the way she planted seeds throughout this series that blossomed chapters, or sometimes books, later. We call this foreshadowing, kids, and by God Sarah is goooooood. I will give an example, and if you hate spoilers, go to the next paragraph. In the novella (set before the first book) The Assasain and the Healer, Celaena feels pulled towards Yrene, saves her booty, teaches her some awesome moves, and gives her money to go to school. In the last book, guess who saves ThE eNtIrE wOrLd?!?! Yrene. Why? Because she went to school to become a healer. Like… I can’t, people. Consider me shooketh.
Planting little seeds throughout your story, watering them as you go, then letting them bloom is the best way to give your readers what the kids these days are calling “shock and awe”.
There’s this idea that has long been talked about in the writing world. Anton Chekhov explains that if you mention a gun in one chapter, it has to go off at some point during your story. This is meant to keep your writing nice ‘n tidy: don’t mention pointless crap. But it also exhibits foreshadowing, the tool every writer should be using.
Tommy mentions a gun in passing during chapter 3.
Tommy uses the gun when someone breaks in during chapter 10.
Anna mentions a bloodstain on her husband’s shirt in chapter 2.
Turn’s out Anna’s hubby has been a naughty boy and is actually the murderer (chapter 29).
You get the idea.
Maas does an incredible job of planting these little seeds throughout her novel. I like to imagine her writing these books with a million flashcards on the ground around her, foreshadowing points on each one. Because if you think about it, she must have planned out every detail before she wrote it.
I hope that I can be that detailed in my writing. I hope that when my readers reach the end of my book they get that ah-hah moment where all the little bits of information suddenly become clear.
Also this series was epic and a total game-changer for me.
Last but not least, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. This book, fellow humans… This book broke me and remade me.
So I’m not going to lie, sometimes the story was a little slow for me. Hah! That kinda goes against what I just said, but it’s true. But it honestly didn’t matter because of the writing. It wasn’t just the use of beautiful language like Laini, it was the way V. E. Schwab evoked emotion with the simplest of phrases.
“Because time is cruel to all, and crueler still to artists. Because vision weakens, and voices wither, and talent fades…. Because happiness is brief, and history is lasting, and in the end… everyone wants to be remembered”
-V. E. Schwab
This book was so well thought out. The research alone makes my head hurt to even think about. But also the story line… Schwab had to make a timeline three centuries long. Three. Centuries. Long. In the real world, people. So research, history, facts, places, dates, ugh.
To be able to plan and research for a book like that is a huge source of inspiration for me, and one of the reasons I included it in this post.
The main reason, though, is the way Schwab writes like she knows exactly what strings to pull. She had me laughing and crying, screaming and closing the book just to absorb. The way she manipulates language into something tangible, something that washes over you so you can breathe in the character’s pain, their love, their misery, their joy.
And the way Schwab portrays mental illness… It’s perfect. Henry is depressed, that much is clear. The way Schwab dove into the inner workings of his mind and said things that I myself have said, had him behaving in ways I have behaved, wrote out thoughts that I’ve had and never shared with anyone…
“Take a drink every time you hear you’re not enough.
Not the right fit.
Not the right look.
Not the right focus.
Not the right drive.
Not the right time.
Not the right job.
Not the right path.
Not the right future.
Not the right present.
Not the right you.
There’s just something missing.
What could I have done?
Nothing. It’s just…
(Who you are.)
I didn’t think we were serious.
(You’re just too…
I just don’t see us ending up together.
I met someone.
It’s not you.
Swallow it down.
We’re not on the same page.
We’re not in the same place.
It’s not you.
We can’t help who we fall in love with.
(And who we don’t.)
You’re such a good friend.
You’re going to make the right girl happy.
You deserve better.
Let’s stay friends.
I don’t want to lose you.
It’s not you.
-V. E. Schwab
It was so painful, but so healing at the same time. I have struggled with my mental health for over half my life. To see a character work through thoughts that I have personally had, and to seek a fulfilling life… to show him grow and learn, seek connection… Beautifully done. Truly.
On that note, if you’re struggling with feelings of hopelessness or overwhelm, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I want to hear your story. Also, the people at the Suicide Prevention Hotline are there to help you anytime. 800-273-8255 or chat.
If you want to evoke emotion in your readers and portray mental health in a beautiful, real, and respectful way, I highly recommend The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.
If you’d like to get a copy, you can check out my affiliate link below.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
I hope this post helps you find some books that can enhance your writing. I would love to hear about books that have made a difference in your writing journey, or if you’re not a writer, books you thought were beautiful and worth mentioning. It’s always good to hear from a reader’s perspective, as sometimes writers get swept up in the mechanics and forget the fun.
I hope you’re taking care of yourself. You’re worth it ❤