What to Learn from Good Books {A Writer’s Guide}

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Hello, dear readers! I finally got around to writing this post. 🙂 I’m so happy that you guys liked the last writing tips post, and I hope this one will prove helpful too!

I’ve been reading plenty of books lately, and I always naturally pick them apart a little when I read. I wanted to share with you guys some of things I’ve learned just by reading, because that is an great way to improve your writing: read good books. Not just interesting, fun to read books, but books that you admire for the author’s writing style, books you wish you could write. Poke around the pages and try to notice what you like about the book. Is it the characters? The words? The images the writer calls to your mind? Always be on the lookout for your own writing tips.

A little disclaimer before we start: I am by no means a professional writer. I don’t even write that often, actually! (Except for plenty of blog posts. XD ) I just thought I’d share these tips which I need to remember, and hope they help you too.

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Okay, so want I want to do is give you two wonderful examples of books (or rather, series) that I have learned a lot from. They each have good things to emulate and bad things to stay away from. Then I’ll do a general summary of some tips I learned from good books. Are you ready? Let’s start with my all time favorite…

The Mysterious Benedict Society

AHH I LOVE THIS BOOK! It’s so clever and suspenseful and entertaining and… well, you’ll see.

  • Originality: One of the top things that draws me to a book is how originally or creatively the author tells the story.  That’s something I have trouble with: coming up with original plots. Although I can’t say the basic plot of MBS is super original (in a nutshell, four children work as a team to save the world from the terrifying plans of an evil genius), the details and characters are pretty creative. I would never have thought of many of the interesting characters or the delightful riddles and puzzles that intrigue you as a reader.
  • Interesting and Relatable Characters: This is one of my favorite things about the MBS. Each character is unique. Reynie is the leader of the children, a thoughtful and intelligent boy who has always felt out of place. Sticky, the worrier, has a photographic memory and a mysterious and unhappy past. Kate is a bright, athletic girl who always carries a red bucket filled with everything you could possibly need in an emergency. (She and Sticky especially have some of the funniest quirks and characteristics.) And Constance… well, the children don’t know quite what to make of the tiny, sleepy girl who’s always complaining, arguing, or making up terrible poems. Even though the children are so different from ordinary children, you can still relate to them and their worries and triumphs. Some other interesting characters are Mr. Benedict, who has a strange condition that causes him to fall asleep at inopportune moments; “the pencil woman,” aka Number Two, who hardly ever sleeps, is always famished, and is too embarrassed to use her real name; and Milligan, a sorrowful, weatherbeaten man with a very mysterious and surprising past.
  • Mystery and Plot Twists:  I love all the mysteries, the many plot twists, the clever riddles, and the can’t-put-it-down factor of this book. Almost any story can be improved by an element of unknown. It keeps the reader hooked.
  • Skillful Writing: I also appreciate Trenton Lee Stewart’s excellent writing style. I think this is why the MBS is still at the top of my list. Other books may be more exciting or interesting, but very few are as well written as this one, in my opinion. His style is very natural, interesting, and sometimes funny. The way he wrote the book with a mix of old and new technology makes it seem timeless and not old-fashioned, and I like the way the author brings out the characters’ story rather than focusing too much on the time period or setting. He has mastered the art of invisibility, he lets the characters tell their own story.
  • Slow Beginnings: The one thing that I think could be improved upon is a quicker start to the book. It’s a little slow at first, which was fine with me, but as an author you have to be quick on your feet to keep readers from abandoning you before they even get started.

 

Keeper of the Lost Cities

This is one of the most exciting series I’ve ever read! It is sooo hard to put down.

  • Suspense: This book is SO suspenseful! Sharon Messenger nearly drives you crazy with all the mystery and suspense, but in a good way. 🙂 I believe the key to keep your readers reading is to leave out a few important  facts that they can’t wait to uncover. The author is a master at that! If anything, I think she goes a bit overboard. There are so many mysteries that Sophie, the main character, has to figure out for herself, and you can’t help but wait with bated breath for her searching to pay off.
  • Interesting Character Relationships: Keeper is a lot different than the MBS in this way. I mean, the character relationships are both good, but the ones in Keeper are just… different. The relationships are more complex, and she develops the characters so well, they feel like real people! You feel very close to the characters and this makes it easier to fall into their world. Which brings us to…
  • Well-Developed Setting: Shannon Messenger takes extreme care in creating the elvin world. She provides enough background information to make the world believable. She makes you think, “Well I know this isn’t true, but it almost could happen.”
  • Poor writing style: PLEASE DON’T KILL ME, KEEPER FANS! XD This is strictly my opinion, and I’m sure there are lots of people who absolutely love her writing style. Anyway, there are several things I don’t care for. Number one, it does not seem very natural. The author seems to be trying hard to make the story even more suspenseful by adding, for instance… Way. Too. Many. One. Word. Sentences.

And her paragraphs are one-lined a lot.

Like this.

I think one-lined paragraphs are extremely useful when used in moderation, but when you overuse them it gets tiringly dramatic. True, in some ways it is easier to read, but on the other hand, it’s almost too easy. My brain likes it better when it has to work just a little bit to extract the story. And number two (or is it three?), I don’t appreciate how modern the words are. That is just my preference, but I don’t like how she uses such casual, sometimes slang language. I would enjoy reading it much more if she had more of the timeless style that Trenton Lee Stewart does. That’s probably THE main difference I like the MBS better than Keeper: because of the writing style.

Alright, I’ve gone over a few of the things I like and dislike about two certain books, but now I want to summarize some general tips that go for pretty much all fiction books.

  • Be Original: Use words no one else has used to tell a story no one has ever told before. Don’t tell a story that’s already been told unless you can tell it in a more interesting way. Stay away from clichés and make up your own metaphors and descriptions that no one else has thought of, to give your readers an interesting perspective on your subject. No one needs to tell us again that her eyes were as blue as the sky; what about as blue as the mountains where she came from?
  • Keep Them Reading: Don’t let the reader know everything. Things left unsaid make the him want to keep reading. Plot twists and mysteries are handy little tools that really go a long way towards making your book a can’t-put-it-down-er.
  • Spend Time on Your Characters: I personally think characters are one of the most important part of the book – sometimes even more important than the plot! Think about it. Some adventure stories, or stories without much of a plot, can survive because you’re just reading for the characters. You laugh at their antics and cry at their tragedies, because they have become your friends. While you read about them, they are real people. That is your goal as a writer, to make your characters seem like real people. Rereading the book should mean visiting old friends, not just remembering the plot you already solved. So, spend time on your characters. The best characters are relatable, which means they aren’t perfect, just like you, and just like the reader. Just like everyone. Good characters have quirks and fears and likes and dislikes just like real people. And believe it or not, not everyone in the real world is an orphan or a princess. (Even though, sadly, there really are the former if not many of the latter.) But don’t make the character too imperfect or he’ll become a one-sided bad guy. Give your character some good traits so that the reader wishes he or she could have too. And as for character relationships, I’ve noticed that a little bit of romance (even just a tiny bit, not anything too gross XD ) makes the book more suspenseful and interesting. But that, of course, is up to you and your tastes.

And thus concludes my lengthy opinions! I hope this was helpful to you guys. 🙂 What writing tips have you learned from good books?

Thanks for reading!

***Allison***

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51 thoughts on “What to Learn from Good Books {A Writer’s Guide}

  1. I love this! I agree with everything you said. I often forget to pick apart books. The Mysterious Benedict Society played the mystery very well (I loved the first one, it was a one-day read), and the long beginnings kinda make it hard to get into the book. I do have the second and third ones I need to read. The whole Keeper of the Lost Cities Lodestar ending ended up giving me a panic attack because I got caught up in the story world then I didn’t understand anything, didn’t feel like I could control anything, because of the suspense element she tried to create but went way too far, though it is interesting story. I don’t know if I’ll read the sixth one.

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    1. Thank you so much, Ete! Yep, I totally agree! You should definitely read the other two MBS books, too! In my opinion they aren’t quite as good, but still amazing!
      Ha ha, I know, it was really confusing to me to, but I got over it after a little more reading. 😉
      P. S. Can we chat sometime? I have some things I want to discuss about WC and stuff. When would be a good time?

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        1. Well, I wish I could do it now, but I probably better go to bed soon. 😦 Would sometime on Saturday afternoon work? We’re going to a fun teaparty early in the afternoon, but I should be able to do it after we come back…

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  2. Ahhhh so many good points.

    I would have to agree with the part of the Keeper series. Shannon tends to be the same with each book and not trying anything new. Sometimes authors care more about quantity over quality. I’ve noticed series where each book is published a little longer in between tends to be have much better writing quality. Of course, Keeper is definitely geared towards the younger readers, so most won’t notice things like that as much.

    I might have to disagree with you on the part of characters most important, though. There have been books out there that I’ve read where although the characters are extremely well created, I become less interested because the plot is dead. I can see the ending from a mile away and it makes me lose interest. But that’s of course just me. Everybody’s got their own opinions 🙂

    Overall, I really liked the post! Definitely a must-read for beginning authors. 😃

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    1. Ha ha, thank you so much, Suzy!
      Yeah, I know. Although I do like how she continues the plot throughout all the books, so it’s kind of like one big book. And yeah, I can tell it’s geared to younger readers. But it’s still interesting! 😀
      Okay, that’s a good point. Plots are definitely the backbone of a story, and I see what you mean about losing interest when you know what will happen. I don’t like that either. :/
      Again, thanks so much, Suzy!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. THIS IS AWESOME. It’s basically my exact thoughts on books written out into an extremely well done blog post! Are you sure you aren’t a Telepath, Allison? XD
    You summarized my exact thoughts on Keeper! The writing style annoys me, but I end up overlooking it as I get into the story because the plot and characters are just SO amazing. 😛
    Your writing posts always make me think, which is awesome. 😀 Amazing post! I love when people appreciate good literature. XD

    – Clara ❤

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    1. Wow, thank you for your amazing comment, Clara! I’m so, so happy you liked it! Heh heh, I’m preeetty sure I’m not a telepath, but who knows? Maybe I’m just really good at unconsciously blocking people. XD XD XD
      Ha ha, yes! Aww, I’m so glad to hear that. 🙂 Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love this! I’m actually rereading (for the thousandth time) the MBS right now, so it’s fresh on my mind, and I agree with all your points. 😄 Trenton Lee Stewart is AN AMAZING author and his writing is spot on! I find myself smiling or laughing at his books regularly.

    Thank you for the tips, Allison! I know they will be helpful. 😉

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  5. Good post, Allison! Yay, and now I get to chat about writerly things. *rubs hands together* 😄I’ve never read TBS, but here are my opinions on KOTLC. (Note: I’m a total nerd XD) Suspense: I personally loooove complex plots, so it’s perfect for me. I have to agree, maybe Shannon can be irritating with all the twists, but one thing I like to notice is that she spaces it all out very evenly. There’s almost an even balance of action and conversation, which sells a plot to me. Interesting Character Relationships: I love the relationships in this book, but the characters themselves I think are just mildly elaborated stock characters. I wish most of them (per say Dex) were more in-depth, like Keefe. Keefe is a stock character, but what makes him unique is his backstory and the way he reacts to everything. Writing style: While I wouldn’t say that her writing style is poor, I don’t think it is memorable. I don’t mind it, but it’s not something that screams ‘LOVE IT!!”
    Sorry that was such a long comment. I just get really nerdy sometimes when it comes to books and writing. ;P

    ~Nicole

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  6. Good post! Keeper is my favorite. And I would have to disagree, I LOVE ❤️ Shannon’s writing style. It makes the story more relatable, and the one line paragraphs add some amazing suspense. Some said in other comments that it was hard for them to understand what was happening in Lodestar because of all the suspense, but for me it’s the opposite. I totally respect your opinion though and I’m not trying to be rude or anything!

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    1. Thanks, Mya! Ha ha, no problem. 🙂 I’m glad you like her writing style. Hee hee, I guess it can go either way – and no, you’re fine! Thanks for being polite, and thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I loved reading your thoughts, Allison! 😀 I really enjoyed MBS, although I kinda thought the words were pretty fancy and not as “modern” as I would have liked, but I did enjoy it. And I definitely agree with Keeper…I like SM’s style but it kinda gets old after a while. 😉

    Once again, wonderful post! I hope you do more of these. 😀

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    1. Thank you so much, Grace! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
      Yes, I can see what you mean, but I like to exercise my mental vocabulary a bit when I read, so I actually enjoy the “fancy” words. XD And yeah…
      Thanks again!

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  8. Great points! I Love the MBS and like how you tried to glean from each of these books 😀 . (I had to notice that you didn’t mention Rhonda in the character list. Poor Rhonda. She’s so ordinary XD LOL) I love MBS’s writing style, too. Someday I want to get Keeper and try it out, but hopefully I will be able to get past the writing style D: . (Eh, I probably will XD )
    ~Gracie

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    1. Thanks so much! Heh heh, well I actually did a review of MBS and mentioned Rhonda on there, so never fear. XD But yeah, she’s really nice but not super extraordinary.
      Oh me too! Heh heh, you probably will. 😀

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  9. This was very interesting and insightful, you put a lot of thought into this post I can tell! 😀 Thanks for the writing tips, they really help since I’m writing a book. 😉 What you said about the characters becoming like your friends is so true, I love books like that!

    There is a Christian Adventure series of 8 books called “The South Seas Adventures” or sometimes called “The Abby Series” by Pamela Walls. I highly recommend it, it is so interesting and neat, I’ve read it several times because I love it so much! Have you heard of it? 😉

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  10. I really appreciate your talking about characters! My problem with a lot of the popular books lately (especially, you, YA novels!) is that the characters seem to be sacrificed for the sake of focusing on the plot. For example, Divergent. It was a cool idea, but I cannot STAND Tris.
    By the way, have you read A Monster Calls? There is a lot to learn from that book!
    Thank you for your beautiful post ♥

    Like

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