Anyone interested in becoming a novelist should also become an avid reader. (Most already are). Not only should you consume book after book in the genre you are interested in writing for, but you should explore other genres and mainstream fiction as well. Clearly, some novelists are stronger in one or two elements of fiction than others. And just as each writer has his strong points, so too does he have his weak points. So, the question is often asked: Which novelists should writers read? Well, the answer is different depending on which elements of fiction you wish to study.
1. Dialogue. If you are interested in studying crisp, realistic dialogue, retrieve some books by Elmore Leonard. This exceptional American crime writer from Michigan offers gritty characters, twisting plot lines, and dialogue that crackles on the page. His novel Killshot is a great place to start. In fact, it is currently being made into a movie starring Mickey Rourke and Diane Lane. Other Elmore Leonard novels that have been made into movies are Get Shorty, Be Cool, The Big Bounce, and Rum Punch, which was adapted into Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown.
2. Description and Setting. Whether you are a fan of the hard-boiled private detective genre or not, check out the novels of Raymond Chandler for an example of magnificent description and setting. His main character Philip Marlowe roams the gritty urban streets of California, which Chandler paints on the page so well. “Raymond Chandler writes like a slumming angel,” it’s been said. His description of people, places, and things in his dark settings are ugly yet somehow sadly beautiful. And his prose will stay with you long after you have turned the final page. Start with The Long Goodbye.
3. Pacing. One popular fiction writer known for his superb pacing is John Grisham. Pacing is particularly important in thrillers because the ride should usually feel like one long adrenaline rush. Read Grisham’s earlier novels for the best examples of exceptional pacing. The Firm, The Pelican Brief, and The Rainmaker all stand out as fine examples. I can’t say much for Dan Brown’s actual writing, but his pacing in The DaVinci Code is undoubtedly a large part of what made the novel such a stunning success.
4. Characters. When most readers think of Stephen King, they think of his ability to conjure monsters at whim. But his real strong point is actually his talent at creating vivid characters who seem to jump right off the page. You care for those characters and you want to follow their every move. And you certainly don’t want to see them devoured by zombies or vampires or Buicks from an alien world.
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