The Authors Before

Favourite lessons from awesome authors

Authors are often asked who our biggest writing influences are. This means the authors whose work has shaped our own writing style.

Here’s a list of my favourite authors for specific writing skills. And what I’ve learned from each of them.

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Agatha Christie

Agatha’s characters all have lives of their own, outside of her stories. They behave in ways we don’t always understand – because we can’t see what everyone is doing all the time. 

There is always information that is irrelevant to the solution. Just as there is always information that isn’t found or understood until the end. This is one of the reasons her mysteries are so hard to solve.

What did I learn from Agatha? It’s absolutely fine to give readers the wrong impression. As long as you explain everything later.

George Orwell

The future isn’t different purely because of developments in science and technology. The most interesting details are often cultural.

What did I learn from George? Science and technology may be integral to the plot. But it’s the characters that turn that plot into a story.

Maureen Johnson

There are many elements to a great story. But none of them count for much if the delivery of the story – the narrator or storyteller – isn’t engaging. 

Maureen’s way of telling a story reminds me of ages past. When people sat around the fire at the end of the day, and recounted tales passed down through generations.

What did I learn from Maureen? You can tell a great story badly, and readers will lose interest. But you can tell any story in an extraordinary way, and readers will be spell-bound.

Trenton Lee Stewart

It is possible to love a character as if they were a real person. It is possible to have trouble sleeping because you are worried about someone who doesn’t actually exist. It is possible for an imaginary person to make you care about things that have never happened to you.

What did I learn from Trenton? You have to let your characters take risks and make mistakes, to learn and grow. You give them a life. Then you have to let them live it.

Anita Shreve

Evoking emotion is the key to a reader’s heart. A brilliant way to evoke emotion is to use an unreliable narrator. This is a technique the reader won’t usually see coming.

I read The Last Time They Met about 20 years ago. And I still think about that ending.

What did I learn from Anita? It isn’t OK for narrators to lie to readers. But it is OK for them to lie to themselves.

Susanna Gregory

Immersing readers in a different time period does not mean piling on description. It means writing a story that could only happen using the objects, roles, skills, and societal frameworks of that time period.

I have every book in the Matthew Bartholomew series. All 25 of them. Medieval England is my second home. 

What did I learn from Susanna? First build your world, then write your story.

Oscar Wilde

Last, but not least, the master of wit. There are some serious points hidden in all that fun.

What did I learn from Oscar? Every story can be improved with a little humour.

Who are your favourite authors for writing skills – and what do you admire about them?

Enjoyed this post?

You might also like: The Light of Every Story.

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