They say to “write the book you want to read,” and so I am.
But what does this quippy piece of advice really mean?
It might be the explanation for why there are so many copycat books out there. On the other hand, it might be the reason for all of the best books: those that are original and yet related to other members of the literary world.
On the first point, this advice might lead to the following…In fact, I am sure that it has:
Situation: An aspiring writer likes The Hunger Games, she then thinks “Wow! There should be more books exactly like this- dystopian with groups who have to fight stuff! Brilliant!”
Or, worse yet, an author thinks to herself, “Twilight fulfilled the Mary Sue romance void in my life, so why not write more paranormal teen novels?”
I won’t even- actually I will- talk about how the actually hysterical Diary of a Wimpy Kid books (I admit I read and enjoyed them) inspired a whole string of various “awkward middle-school kid who journals with stick figure cartoon” books. Who would have thought that would end up as a genre?
The pitfall of copying other author’s unique ideas is real and one that I am struggling to avoid. There is nothing wrong with learning from other authors, though, and I actually strongly believe in borrowing.
Borrowing, not imitating.
This brings me to the other possible interpretation of this advice:
I fancy the poetic writing of L.M. Montgomery, so I will try applying it to my own description passages. I love the puns and whimsy of J.K. Rowling, so I’ll let my own wit flow unrestrained. I was influenced by the strong and quirky characters of Trenton Lee Stewart, so I might use them as developmental role models for my own characters. I adore the speculative fiction of Ray Bradbury, so I might employ similar twists to send shivers down readers’ spines.
This is borrowing and it is not only beneficial, I believe it is necessary. We discover our own style by reading and analyzing the writing of other authors. We decide what suits us and what doesn’t. It goes so far beyond the copying of -more or less- an exact plot, with characters that only differ in hairstyle or paranormal species. Borrowing and adapting teaches us how to set our own work in conversation, perhaps even communion, with those of other writers, as we create our own original book.
All this to say, if you are- as I am- seeking to write the book you want to read, it needs to not be a twin of a book that already exists, but a relative of many and a child of your own. It needs to be the book that you want to read; it needs to be an eclectic mixture of the books and authors that made you the reader that you are today. It should reflect the kind of things that you read and be written with the elements you’ve gathered as you’ve discovered your personal style.
As I near the end of the first draft of my darling little novel, I am realizing the truth of this more and more. The plot is so uniquely Ryanne in that I have never heard of anything quite like it. However, the style is also Ryanne in that it incorporates the techniques and approaches of my favorite authors into my own style.
Like humans, books become what they are due to nature and nurture, . My novel was born by nature, my unique ideas, and developed by nurture, the ideas I’ve fed myself by devouring other novels. And, by both of these, it has become the book that I want to read because it is the child of my own mind, yet inherits the best-loved traits of my favorite books. It’s no copy, but it is not separate from the rest of the literary world. It is a beautiful (to me…it still needs an immense amount of revision…) combination of brainchild and learned style.
In writing a book like this, I am writing the one I want to read because it is a story I thought of and want to share, as well as a nod to all of the books that I find myself rereading.
Thanks for reading!