I’ve touched briefly upon what spurred me to become a writer but I haven’t talked about who my inspirations are, both good and bad. What I mean by that is, which authors do I admire, who in my wildest dreams would I love to be like, and which authors have I read that made me roll my eyes, sigh, and think ‘God, I hope I can do better than that.’ So today I’d like to wax a bit on those writers who have inspired me.
My absolute favorite author is Ken Follett. When I started reading his works, I think it was the first time I realized how much historical fiction I actually read and was the genre I loved the most. I was introduced to him by my spouse, who lent me a copy of The Pillars of the Earth. I loved the book. I loved the time setting, the story, and all the characters even that scumbag William Hamleigh. I started reading other Follett books, haven’t gotten through all of them yet, and my absolute favorite of his books is A Dangerous Fortune. Besides the tremendous amount of research that goes into each Follett book, the biggest thing I admire the most is the depth and complexity of his characters. He can juggle several major characters creating wonderfully entangled relationships. The characters feel like real people. They act like real people. His female main characters are always strong and complex. They are women with brains who buck the social constraints of their time period yet never come across as being out of place or too ‘modern’. Their motivations maybe for love and family, tropes most writers go to, but it never feels trite.
Follett’s characterizations and ways of seamlessly weaving in historical facts and details are a model for me. If I can achieve even an eighth of that, it would be a huge accomplishment in my mind. In A Dangerous Fortune, the book is set in the late Victorian era and Pilaster family’s wealth is centered in the banking industry. This is something most people aren’t familiar with so Follett has to educate the reader but not get the reader bogged down in all the boring financial terms. Instead of taking several arduous paragraphs to explain this, like some authors who shall remain nameless, he sprinkles it throughout the narrative in short, easy to digest paragraphs. He gives it the probiotic treatment. Just long enough to explain why it is germane to the story but not enough to glaze over the reader’s eyes. This approach is something I hope I can do in my own narratives because it is too easy for me to get caught up in the nerdy details I find interesting.
Another one of my favorite authors is George R.R. Martin. Like a lot of readers, I became aware of him via the show Game of Thrones based upon the excellent series A Song of Ice and Fire. His writing style is very different from Follett’s and modern writers I’ve read so far. He has this wonderfully dense, sensitive, lyrical quality to his prose. Sure some lament this but I find it refreshing; it makes his work and voice stand out. I’ve read some of his earlier short stories and am completely jealous of his early works because you can see his uniqueness even when he was a teenager. If I could put together prose a fraction of a fraction as beautiful as Martin does, I’d be exhilarated.
Besides the beauty of Martin’s words, the other thing he does that inspires me is, again, his characters. If you want to know what real, honest characters that quickly become people, then read George R.R. Martin. A Song of Ice and Fire is full of morally gray characters. It is full of characters you may love or hate at the beginning of the series but you wind up switching allegiance to by the end. But it’s not just this series where the characters are like that. His short stories are full of characters with indescribable depth. I admit I haven’t read any of his other novels yet but I look forward to them because I trust the quality will be there.
And for all my fangirling with regards to at least 2 of the authors whom I aspire to be like, there are those that I aspire to NOT be like. I won’t be specific with names or titles because that would be rude but suffice it say, when I attempted to read a certain book with sparkly vampires, I had to stop. Thinking ‘Um, is this what passes for a best-seller?’ is either inspiring or depressing. Inspiring as in well, I don’t think my writing can be any worse than that. Depressing as in I could be going at this for decades, producing well-written work (I hope) and yet not get published. What bugs me about books I’ve read that I don’t finish or like is because those authors have not created complex characters, interesting settings, or have strong prose skills. What gets published isn’t an accurate reflection of quality; it’s just what a publisher thinks they can sell.
But that’s when I realized I just need to concentrate on doing the best I can. I can be inspired without aping anyone else’s style or voice. It is incredibly easy for me to look at what my idols write and get down on myself. Is it realistic to aspire to be the next Ken Follett or George R.R. Martin or J.K. Rowling? Perhaps but I doubt any of them started out thinking they would be huge authors with millions of fans around the world and thousands of people admiring them.