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Despite popular belief, us writers are a simple bunch. Despite the raging depression and social anxiety, (not forgetting the fact that we have seven thousand characters, settings, and ideas running round our minds at any given moment,) we’re not actually all that complex.
Each writer’s style is a unique combination of the books they’ve read, the experiences they’ve had, the movies they’ve seen, and the stories they’ve heard. A writer’s ‘favourites’ become their standardised norm, and their ‘current’ can effect that voice in any number of ways.
Growing up, my favourite movies were horror, my favourite author Stephen King. My household is as close as it is unbelievably loud, and I have a history with Paganism, witchcraft, and the occult. I’ve been the popular kid in school, the no-shit tough guy, the rebel without a cause, the unlikely empathic, and the manic depressive.
Over the years, all these ones and zeros come together to form a unique string of code, which we then, as readers, interpret as the ‘writing style’ or ‘voice.’ Ask any writer his favourite books, movies, or childhood memories, and when he answers, you’re almost guaranteed to reply with, “ah, that makes sense.” See, simple, right..?
Today’s post is an insight into the books that have shaped my writing style. They may not each be my favourite books of all time, but they are the most prominent ones that I can recognise and call upon within my own work.
Horns- Joe Hill
For a story about a guy that develops devil horns on his head and the ability to extract the truth from whoever he’s talking to, Horns was very real. Of course Joe’s own voice, is similar to his father’s, Stephen King, but different somehow. More daring, more cynical. His youth offers him a more fresh, experimental outlook in his writing.
Horns was funny, deep, frightening, and emotional all at once. It was as entertaining as it was gut-wrenching. I remember reading through the perspective of one of the characters, and at a moment having to wipe a tear. That’s the first time I’d gotten so deep into the psyche of a set of characters, that I felt pain along with them, and that’s because the characters were so well built, so relatable, that you couldn’t help but become engrossed.
A lot of Joe’s style, and a lot of this book, comes across in my work. I personally believe I ‘levelled up’ in my writing since reading it. As writers, you’ll notice similar ‘ah-ha’ moments, where your writing takes a huge leap in the right direction. My work became more character driven, my tone became more unapologetic, and overall my writing took a positive turn. If you haven’t read Horns, treat yourself. Despite it’s movie adaptation, Horns is one of the best stories I have ever had the pleasure of reading.
The Gunslinger- Stephen King
I’m a huge Stephen King fan, there’s no getting around it. Before the Gunslinger, I had read countless books from his collection, from my favourite ‘Salem’s Lot,’ to the more recent detective thrillers ‘Finder’s Keepers.’ The Gunslinger is not by any means my favourite, or even one of my favourite books, but it is a great book, and it gave me validation in an aspect of my voice that had been bubbling beneath the surface for years.
I’m a philosophical mind. Every waking minute, every situation I see, presents a larger set of questions I’m keen to ask and answer. My viewpoints and ideas are universal in nature, and I suppressed that side of me when writing fiction for many years. King’s ‘Gunslinger’ convinced me that the two don’t need to stay separate, and gave me permission to experiment with a philosophical edge in my work.
Beyond that, the ‘plot’ of the first book is very loose. It’s more an exploration of the character himself, rather than a magical journey across lands with a goal to achieve. While the larger ‘Dark Tower’ series tells of a dark fantasy adventure, that individual book does not, which encouraged me to write stories that not only go from A-B, but explore the inner psyche and motivations of its characters. Sometimes, the growth of a character is enough of a plot to keep a book fluid and alive.
The dark worlds that exist around the Dark Tower and connect many of King’s novels, begins with book 1, The Gunslinger. I highly recommend it.
The Revenant- Michael Punke
Jumping forward a number of years, The Revenant is one of my more recent reads. I loved it, cover to cover. While the book runs along a set path of injury, survival, recovery, to revenge, it also offers an in depth look at the character and his history, through a series of vivid flashbacks. The Revenant offers a guide in providing a rich backstory for any given character, without taking away from the unfolding plot in the current time.
We see him struggle to survive through serious trauma, and develop a love and respect for the character that I personally feel was missing from the movie. We find ourselves rooting for the guy, feeling his pain, going through his struggle, and existing in those pages right alongside him. This effect was achieved through a clever string of current and past events, that allowed us to feel like we know him.
While outside of my genre, The Revenant instantly became one of my favourite books of all time, and provided me a little further education in deep character driven novels. We’re talking about a book where for 200 pages, the guy laid on his back at the very brink of death, and never once became boring. If you haven’t read it yet, I seriously recommend it. I thought it wasn’t my kind of thing, but loved it anyway. I’m confident you will too!
Not particularly an impact on my voice, so I couldn’t add it to this list, but Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ had a huge impact on my approach to writing, and is just an excellent book start to finish. You can check out an entire post I wrote on the book, here: The One Book That Changed My Writing Life, And Why It Will Change Yours Too.
So there you go, three books that shaped my writing style. Of course there are many more, but those are the first that spring to mind. Which books do you hold accountable for shaping your style? And if you’re not a writer, what are your favourite books and why? I love to read! So I’m always looking for recommendations.