Writing Challenge, Day 12: Magpie

30 Day Writing Challenge

Day 12: What is the last book, story, or poem you read that had an effect on your writing? Are you a better writer for having read this work?

Maybe it’s just the put-a-bird-on-it Portlandian in me talking, but when it comes to writing I’m quite the magpie: I approach every text with a discerning eye, eager to take from it what gold and shiny lessons I may.

I read The Hunger Games, for example, just before the first film came out and I have to say, it has been a long time since I’ve seen a character so fresh and well-developed as Katniss Everdeen. There is a fiery girl with clear motive, a short temper, and rich layers of conflict! I wonder if the use of the first person instead of third had anything to do with the way she simply jumped off the page? The fact that I’m still thinking about it shows that it is successful writing and prompts me to think I should revisit the book, study it more carefully, and see how I, too, can create such memorable characters.

I don’t think I can’t point to any one specific work, however, and say that it has fundamentally altered or influenced my personal writing style. I’ve not yet had enough of an obsession with any one author to have steeped myself in his or her writing mannerisms. In grade school I read loads of Goosebumps, Boxcar Children, and Sweet Valley High, and in high school I may have had a girly, guilty, long-term affair with Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries series, but I’ve never once read my work and afterwards thought, “That sounded like Francine Pascal just there!” or “Why, I could be the next R.L. Stine!”

I do, of course, learn from just about everything I read. Even bad writing—clichés, dry narratives, gratuitous (not to mention bizarre) love-making, “liquid topaz eyes”*—can warn of what to avoid!

Every story touches me and my writing in one way or another, but perhaps most often I go through post-reading phases. After reading e.e. cummings, for instance, my sentences flow into one another with little or strange punctuation; following Norwegian Wood I wrote a dark story about suicide; after The Iliad I went about with a lyric tongue uttering things such as “Put away in your heart this thing that I tell you” and “…And his armor clattered upon him.”

*If you know what this is from then you are as bad as I am! 😉

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