You know the feeling. The pages swoop past like they’re in an awful hurry and all of a sudden you’re slapped by the emptiness of the back cover. All you’re left with at that point is post-novel depression: a catching-up-of-breath-while-leaning-back-thinking ‘Wow, I wish I’d written that.’
I’ll be honest: my reading is rather mainstream and there are no shocking presences in my leisure bookshelf (academic, that’s another question). My little friends up there are more likely to have topped the best-seller list than not. Think what you will of that. The ‘I Wish I’d Written That’ works are (among others) Rowling’s Harry Potter, King’s ‘Secret Window, Secret Garden,’ and the 19th century children’s novel The Wind on the Moon by Linklater.
Pretty standard, right? Besides all these, however, there is one particular work I admire above and beyond anything else. It’s not any more gobsmackingly unusual than any of the above, and there is no need for you to sit down, but it nevertheless sticks out in my world: Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.
These three novels – Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass – invite their readers to experience fantasy like I’ve never seen done before. The creativity, the originality, the complexity of the plot – everything about it is astounding. Forget dry dwarves, dreary dragons, and weary wands (don’t get me wrong, these are not necessarily signs of unoriginality) – say ‘howdy’ and ‘how d’ye do’ to Spectres, daemons, and harpies instead! There are witches, granted, but what wonderful witches they are!
This is not just a post where I share my reading delights, but rather a way of making the most of these. As a literature and creative writing student, you learn to really pick a work apart: see what works, how it works, and, most importantly, why it works. That’s what you should do with your own wordy friends.
It’s not a matter of copying a style, not at all. But there is a reason why these particular novels/stories have tickled your approval and finding out that reason can direct you in your own writing. If my admiration for Pullman’s invented worlds is his striking originality, perhaps that’s what I should focus on; if it’s instead based on his strong foundation of scientific fact, there’s another clue.
Just make sure you’re not too inspired. Last year I planned out a full-length novel and was about to start writing when I realised it was more or less a shadow of another work. Needless to say, I put it aside. Inspiration is good, stealing is not, no matter how subconscious/unintentional it is.
What are your ‘I Wish I’d Written That’ works?