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Books you've learned from

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One of my goals for next year relates to reading critically and paying better attention to *how* the books I love do what they do craft-wise (effective imagery, characterization, etc), which made me wonder:

What books have you guys learned new things from?
What was it you learned?
Do you have books you pick up again and again just to read snippets of, to inspire you with their excellence?

#1 - December 19, 2011, 10:22 AM
Circus Galacticus
Fortune's Folly
The Magical Misadventures of Prunella Bogthistle

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I can think of two books that give me that 'aha!' feeling but they're both picture books! One is YOU CAN'T EAT A PRINCESS by Gillian Anderson, and the other is THE LOUDEST LION (also published as QUIET!) by Paul Bright and Guy Parker-Rees.

The stories both have excellent pacing and rhythm (without being rhyming books), but the characters really make the stories sing - as you read them out loud you naturally give the characters appropriate voices, all because of the dialogue the authors have chosen. I love reading them again and again and every time I realise how important it is to make characters distinct and give each of them unique voices – even/especially when they only have one or two lines of dialogue.

The same is true of longer books, of course, but somehow these two picture books really scream these messages at me. Great thread!
#2 - December 19, 2011, 01:12 PM

I've learned from so many books ... that question will take some thinking.

Regarding plot, I always come back to HOLES as an example of a book that inspires me with its craftsmanship and excellence. It is pretty much perfect, in my brain.
#3 - December 19, 2011, 02:14 PM
Youth Services librarian and YA writer. Wisconsin SW (Madison area) Rep.
@amandacoppedge on Twitter


There are many things to be learned from SPEAK, I think. I'll only mention how well it succeeds symbolically and as an example of integrating classical mythology into a modern tale without making it obvious or even necessary -- it's more like something extra to chew on.
#4 - December 19, 2011, 02:58 PM


I just picked up a couple of books by Sharon Shinn to study for a few different points... and totally forgot to make notes of anything as I got lost in the story. Ooops.
#5 - December 19, 2011, 03:15 PM

Looking over recently-ish read books ...

"Okay for Now" by Gary Schmidt is like a study in voice. The tough-guy voice is in such nice contrast to the tender emotional content of the book.

"How to Save a Life" by Sara Zarr, what a brilliantly done dual pov. If I ever write a dual pov book I will be reading this one again and taking notes.

"Ruby Red" by Kerstin Gier is a great example of a really likeable mc, same as "Harry Potter."

Cinda Williams Chima: worldbuilding  :werd

"Shine" by Lauren Myracle: excellent, believable and dramatic character arc

Elizabeth Bunce: well-crafted plot.  Symphonically-crafted, I'd say--with every "instrument" coming in and out at the sweet spot every time.

Kathleen Duey: well-crafted, sustained mood (Sacred Scars and Skin Hunger).

#6 - December 19, 2011, 03:50 PM
Youth Services librarian and YA writer. Wisconsin SW (Madison area) Rep.
@amandacoppedge on Twitter

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Well, I'm going to second Elizabeth Bunce, as I've just finished reading her newest. From her I learn to pay attention to nouns and verbs, and also to remember that there is always more to the story if only you let everyone tell their point of view.

From Maggie Stiefvater, to use the words your character would use, to add in as much character-specific personality, whether the words are abrupt or flowery or quirky or stately. Also, that it can be more interesting to have two positive characters with a positive relationship competing in some way than to merely have a protagonist-antagonist situation. (I'm not saying to eliminate the antagonist in the first case--just that having both situations can up the tension quite a bit.)

From Sarah Williams, to let a character ramble in a bit if it's in character--they will usually tell you surprising things.

From JK Rowling, plot and dialogue. What a master!

From Heather Dixon, the idea of mirroring two threads that go in opposite directions at the same time--they show the progress of a situation more clearly because they are a foil for each other (if you've read Entwined, I mean the separate threads of Keeper and the King).

From Rachel Hawkins, a great voice will let you skip over the boring parts and get to the good parts without your reader even noticing.

From Jordan Sonnenblick, the trick of laying your quivering heart out in plain sight while at the same time doing it almost matter-of-factly. Actually, I still haven't figured out how he does this, so I keep reading his books, hoping it will reveal itself to me. :)
#7 - December 20, 2011, 03:38 PM


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