Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Going back to what inspires me

As part of the writing process I've discovered a penchant for returning to books that inspired me to daydream and drove my own desire to create stories. The deeper into a writing block I get, the more I turn to classics from my childhood (classics to me, anyway) to rekindle the excitement and remind me what good writing looks like. And maybe to steal a little of that writing magic for myself. There are a few books that leap into my mind immediately when I think of amazing books from my childhood that inspired me and drove me.

I read everything by L'Engle I could get my hands on, but this book set the standard for me. I loved Vicky (the MC) and was super jealous that I couldn't go swimming around with hot boys and playful dolphins. But even beyond that, it was a perfect summer coming of age story, and I was forever disappointed by my lackluster summers watching The Andy Griffith Show and eating microwaveable hamburgers (let's not judge, people). L'Engle had a simplicity of language that felt fresh and clean, the way that looking back at youth should feel. Emotions were simple but felt complex, and her characters reached a maturity level I always hoped to find (still waiting for that to kick in). And I totally blame this book for making me want a summer beach house set high on a craggy bluff in New England.

This book made me laugh, broke my heart, and added chickabiddy to my list of affectionate nicknames. I kid you not I can't read the synopsis of this book without getting choked up even though I haven't read this book since middle school. I would never ruin this book for anyone (although the Amazon reviews and descriptions do a pretty good job of it), but I had NO CLUE what was coming when I got to the climax of the book. Creech perfectly maintained the mystery of Sal's mother's disappearance until the end, a feat that I appreciate on a whole new level now that I have my own mysteries to maintain.

Characterization: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
I recently reread this favorite and found myself laughing out loud at the early descriptions of Anne's character. From the descriptions of her actions to the run on dialogue that reveals more about her hopes and dreams than just what's happening before her, Anne comes through from the very beginning. The quaint setting and mundane experiences are elevated to an entertaining level when filtered through the eyes of such an entertaining main character. I'm not usually a big fan of setting description, but Montgomery also does a beautiful job of painting Avonlea in vivid purples and luscious greens and snowy whites (see? I'm learning). She tells the story of a place I would almost hesitate to visit because it couldn't possibly measure up to imagination.

World building: The Belgariad series by David Eddings
This series instilled a love of fantasy (GOOD fantasy) in me from an early age. The complicated rules and interplay of wizardry were effortless and invisible. I never felt like I was being told what I needed to know to understand a scene; the information was woven into the storytelling to the point that when you did need to know something, you already learned it several chapters back. Eddings also juggled a large cast of characters but made them stand out on their own terms and I loved and knew every single one of them. This was the series that set me daydreaming about distant planets and unknown powers and epic battles and strong women who could still be feminine. I'm definitely looking forward to revisiting these again soon.

What about you? What inspired (or continues to inspire) you? What books have stuck with you all your life?


Laurel Garver said...

I love your summary of the beauty of both L'Engel's and Montgomery's gifts. L'Engel is the one writer who most excited me about writing in junior high, and her work always made it feel deliciously possible to become a storyteller, too. Anne Lamott has that effect on me these days.

Now I have to go find the Creech book!

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Funny you should bring this up! Recently, I've been thinking about Daphne DuMaurier (Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel), Mary Stewart (The Ivy Tree, The Moonspinners), and Mary Roberts Rinehart (The Door, and The Circular Staircase) and wanting to write a mystery in the gothic style: the heroine in danger, the hero that no one can trust, the buried family secrets, and mistaken identities.

Those are the books that inspired me as a reader. I'm thinking it might be fun to delve into that delicious genre again.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

You've picked some great models. My newest inspiration is Brandon Sanderson for my fantasy writing. He writes so fast and he's so great at plot twists you don't see coming. He tortures his characters, something I need to do better.
For romance writing, I wish I could write dialogue like Jayne Ann Krentz.

Melissa Gill said...

Great idea to be inspired by books that inspired you as a young person. I think I'll follow your example. I also like Dianne's idea of putting Rebecca on my list. I'm hoping to talk my book club into reading it, but plan to read it regardless.

Solvang Sherrie said...

I loved Anne of Green Gables. I read those books over and over. I'm curious about the L'Engle book. I haven't read that one. I'll have to look for it!