Diving deep into what we read

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I will read anything.  I have read anything.

I read at two levels: one for enjoyment and then at another that appreciates the level behind that. The craft. The art. The life lessons hinted at by character arcs.

I am inspired by a range of authors for a range of reasons.  That’s not to say I adhere to their worldview; not at all. But as a writer myself I read them differently to any fan.  Instead, as I look beyond what they’ve written to how they’ve come up with it, what they’re trying to say and how it makes me think.

I am inspired by the Christian storytelling of … Ted Dekker, Frank Peretti and James L Rubart.

As a Christian, I an inspired by those who can tell a story that is true to my belief system.  I get the fact that most Christian bookstores I’ve visited contain 1/3 devotional books, 1/3 inspirational books and 1/4 worship music CDs.  The fact that there is good Christian fiction on some of their shelves is great – and it’s these two names I search for first. I love their telling of modern stories with values from another time.  It’s a refreshing break from everything else that’s out there.

I have read Dekker and Peretti for years, drawn to new stories as I appreciate the way they are able to walk that tightrope between preaching and lame storytelling.

I loved Dekker’s Skin (which also had a great twist as well) as well as Peretti’s Prophet (probably because I’ve worked in the media before).

Lastly, James L Rubart. Jim’s stories reflect his belief system, but the thing I appreciate most is his ability to tell stories about characters who are real.  They face issues and challenges. They have inconsistencies and make the wrong calls. They are struggling to make sense of the world around them.  And they’re people of faith.

I am inspired by the story pacing of … Hugh Howey.

I loved the Wool/Shift/Dust trilogy that Hugh crafted.  His pacing, his ability to keep the story going was truly great and I found myself in that position all authors want for their readers: I couldn’t put the book down.

I found a quote from Hugh that sums up the type of writer I’d like to: “Readers prefer the clear and concise delivery of an exciting story more than the flowery and sublime delivery of utter ennui.”  Amen.

I am inspired by the writing style of … Ben Elton

I like Mr Elton’s ability to weave social commentary into his writing.  To talk both at a big picture level about certain issues, but to also bury nuggets of gold in scenes themselves without coming off as preachy.

Ben Elton also has a wit about his writing that I connect with.  His phrasing is clever, his words are punchy and it’s something that gives me, the reader, something extra the second (or third or nineteenth) time I pick up his book to read.

I am inspired by the plotting ability of … Robert Ludlum

Robert Ludlum is my author hero.  The author best known for The Bourne Trilogy, he wrote dozens of books that I have consumed more than once each.  His ability to plot a story from beginning to end is inspirational to me; he tells a story which drives along but also gives enough backstory to be palatable without going the full Tolkein (where you write a scene, followed by 400 pages on how over three centuries the Hobbits developed the word “breakfast”).

I met Ludlum once at a book signing when I was 19 and his advice still jags in my memory.  He said that he plots a book from start to finish, then plots each chapter with a start and end point.  Then, knowing where he needs to go, he discards it and writes, leaving free thinking within a framework.

I am inspired by the story ideas and concepts of … Philip K Dick and Charlie Brooker. 

As a reader, I am drawn into stories that are on the fringes of my psyche; that ask extraordinary questions of ordinary situations or that take a dystopian view of the mundane.

Philip K Dick was one of the great science-fiction writers of the 20th century.  There are a couple of his storylines that inspire me to think about the other side of the glass; to wonder what if? I know about his issues with mental health and drug use and don’t condone them at all, but I am inspired by the way he looked at the concept of reality in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (which became the movie Blade Runner) or The Adjustment Team.

And Charlie Brooker’s view of the world through his writing of the Black Mirror series was a masterclass in lateral thinking.  Particularly the episode “White Bear” which blew me away and, on second viewing, became another story altogether.

I am inspired by the plot twists of … M Night Shyamalan.

I’ve already posted about how much I loved the plot twists of stories like The Sixth Sense. It’s a gift; to look at a story, and change direction at precisely the last moment and still deliver a satisfying outcome.

That’s a true gift, and one I now try to apply in my own work.  I want to look at my storyline and try to swerve at the end, but to ensure that my reader isn’t thrown out of the car.  Instead, I’d prefer they shake their head and go ‘wow, I didn’t see that coming’.