Jun 17, 2010

Read to Write

I Learn By Osmosis

I just finished (on my Kindle) Neil Shusterman's Unwind this week. WOW. Has to be the best written YA novel I've read. Big statement, I know, but Shusterman utilised all the best elements of storytelling:
  • The story got started right off with the conflict. MC's parents have signed him over to be 'unwound', which means every part of him will be harvested for other people's transplants.
  • Action and movement is frequent and spectacular. There are three young fugitives on the run, bus crashes, shoot-outs and more.
  • It contains a dystopian element that gets you thinking about human nature and how bad and how good it can get.
  • Everything mentioned matters. There are no vague stories because they sound cute. Every single anecdote, backstory, setting and prop is a smoking gun to show up later.
  • All the characters are believable - even the ones you don't agree with.
  • It ends with hope for a brighter future and human redemption. 
Unwind kept me on the edge of my seat, in one later scene, I literally kept putting my Kindle down away from me, scared to read on, but then had to snatch it back up to see how the situation would turn out. I don't mind telling you, there were tears (and I don't think I've gotten weepy in a book since Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men).

My intention is to study the style of the writer when I read fiction, to help me grow with my own writing, but this one was so good, I forgot to take notes. 
After finishing the novel, I felt a bit empty, so read a short story from a favourite author, Mark Twain's A Dog's Tale. Very different style, but it also included a scene revealing the weakness and cruelness of people, leaving me a little disappointed in us humans (but then I see the kids in my classes and I realise there is much more kindness and potential in the human race). 

What do you read to help you get writing?


  1. Sounds great, I'm going to have to get that book...

  2. I had the exact same reaction to UNWIND. After I read it, I recommended it to everyone I know. The writing was just so powerful. I haven't read anything else by Shusterman yet, but I can't wait to.

  3. Wow, that sounds like a good book! I read YA books as well to help my writing. I just finished Willow, a novel about a girl who kills her parents in a a car crash and deals with it by cutting herself. -not the most uplifting plot, but I'm reading it because it got a good review from Publishers Weekly and I want to know why.

  4. Reading something I really like always inspires me. It can be old or new, but if it's something I'm in to, it gets the creative juices flowing. Actually, TV helps me too! I was watching a documentary on Carlos the Jackal last night and suddenly I was inspired to write a new scene for my debut's sequel. I've even been inspired by Big Brother. Yes, I said it, Big Brother! :)

    Great post!

    xoxo -- Hilary

  5. so tempting...It sounds amazing, shocking with the human element! Thank you for recommending this!

  6. I forgot to add, my daughter is reading "Everlost"
    required summer read, for Freshman English in the fall(high school). I guess I need to get the other two~ Thank you!

  7. I'm definitely going to have to pick up this book!

    Reading always inspires me - even if I didn't enjoy the book or writing style. You can learn so much from well-written books but sub-par books push me to continue on to write something much better.

  8. Sounds like a FABULOUS book! (sounds especially like an author who really knows how to edit--a BUNCH of that stuff would be nearly impossible to make happen in a first draft--particularly the 'every detail matters'.

    And I have an award for you over on my blog...

  9. Tessa - Yes, you do have to get Unwind! :-)

    Anna - I know! It's like we're part of the 'read Unwind' club now, we're 'knowing' ;-j.

    Aubrie - I've seen mention of Willow, I'll have to check it out. Seems to be a craving from YAs to read books with a slight depressive mood. Me thinks we've been treating them all a bit too good :-)

    Hilary - TV can give you ideas. For me it's especially true if it's something I wouldn't usually watch (like a documentary on a remote village and their cultural traditions). Then I tend to pay more attention and pick things up. I got the line for my NaNoNovel from that doco: 'if you put the wrong thing in your mouth you will die". :-)

    Ellie - Everlost is very popular with the kids at my school at the moment. Yes, try Unwind - brilliant, simple writing. :-)

    Jaydee - I sometimes learn more (what NOT to do) from books I DON'T like, so good point! And yes, pick up Unwind!

    Watery Tart - You're spot on, the writing is TIGHT. Also no flowery, fancy writing to prove that they are 'literary', just good simple writing that carries you into and through the story. :-)

    Thanks for all the comments!

  10. Sounds like a book I have to read! Thanks for the suggestion.

    I have a ton of favourite authors. When I need a creativity boost, I pull out one of them :)

  11. A poem out of "The Music Lover's Poetry Anthology," A chapter of "North of Hope" by Jon Hassler, MN author, "The Artist's Way" has been helping me. Sue Grafton is always good. Thanks for getting me thinking about creative stimulation.

  12. Wow. After a review like that, how do I NOT read it? Amazon, here I come!

    I read blogs and books about writing (Les Edgerton, Stephen King...) in order to get me going in my own writing.

    P.S. My son LOVES The Floods book that Milly and Tilly recommended. :-)

  13. I had a similar post about this very subject recently. I think it's essential for writers to read. We gain so much from it. It's one thing to read about the theories in how-to books, but another to see those theories in action.

  14. Hi Charmaine! I found you through the #31DBBB at The SITS Girls, and I'm so happy I did! I'm a writer to, and like you believe that what I read helps me to write. I am subscribing to both your blogs.