I am a prose person.
I willing admit I actively overlook what would be for me normal reading detractors (angsty love triangles, lost royalty, the peasant with great purpose, and so on and so forth in the colonized lands of imagination) when the author is a artist with their prose. In my meager efforts to find an appropriate way to describe this, I learned that this behavior is termed a cognitive bias. Ok. Sure. I’ll take it.
I have a prose bias.
I was actually talking to Chelsea about this while we were waiting for Lauren to arrive for our weekly get together. The subject stemmed from the fact that I was reading yet another Kindle book that I impulse-purchased because the price was right and those tricksy synopsis writers hooked me. Long story short, the writing could have been better, the plot could have been better. It all could have been better. Chelsea, the list maker extraordinaire that she is, laughingly told me I need to stop doing that and it’s for this same reason that she trawls the depths of r/fantasy for book recommendations to avoid wasting money on unfortunate reads, particularly self-published as these do tend to be more unrefined.
I do not do this because I am stubborn and temperamental. But that’s a discussion for another time.
Publishing itself has seemed, to me at least, to gear towards more shallow and unrefined authors as time passes. Again, a discussion for another post, maybe with some alternative perspectives to mellow my own. But in particular Chelsea and I discussed the tendency for adult fiction to be a more interesting read, plot and prose-wise, than young adult or teen fiction, but that young-adult and teen fiction is preferable to poorly written adult fiction.
Which led me to thinking about authors. The books I dislike can typically be pinpointed by cliched plots and blunt, tacky writing styles. But. You take that cliched plot and give it the grace of an experienced writer, and I’m more likely to stick it out and enjoy the novel. Now, I’ll grant you, most authors who have a more experienced voice, even in their debut novels, usually have better plots than loving someone from the wrong side of the social spectrum. But these authors can also take such an overwrought plot device and give it a fresh rhythm. So. I thought to myself, whose writing do I have a bias towards? Whose writing could make me read anything?
I guess, fundamentally, I was wondering, who do I wish I could write like? And this is who I came up with.
- Neil Gaiman – Okay. This one really isn’t a surprise if you have been with us for any small period of time. Gaiman is easily one of my favorite authors and I say that being fully aware that half the time I’m not following the plot because he writes it so carefully. But by the end of the novel everything that been brought together so smoothly, I view my ignorance of the plot as a result of my inexperience as a reader rather than against anything Gaiman has done. I absolutely love how he writes.
- Nnedi Okorafor – Another absolute favorite of mine. I forget why exactly I picked up Who Fears Death, but I did. And I will never question purchasing her books ever again. Her work is emotive and quiet, providing enough room for you to grasp the perspective of the character and live in their space. Her writing is pointed without being the soapbox I see some authors turning their works into.
- Max Gladstone – I recently discovered Max Gladstone through an impulse-purchase proved right. I have only read the first in his series, Three Parts Dead, but the story is so beautifully crafted and the magic so thoughtfully addressed. And, a point for Gladstone, the only reason you don’t know something is happening is because the character doesn’t, which build the story only where it needs it.
- JM McDermott – Having purchased We Leave Together to finish out my Dogsland Trilogy, I found I actually needed to go back and re-read the first two in the series to remember what was happening (it’s been at least five years since I had. I blame moving. And grad school. And climate change.). I’m grateful for the opportunity re-read these books because I know I didn’t appreciate them or McDermott’s writing the first time. Similar to Okorafor, he creates worlds you can experience and characters you can rest in as they give you their story.
- Terry Pratchett – is a guilty pleasure. I will recommend his works till my end. I know some have taken up arms that his works aren’t particularly ground-breaking. Right. Ok. If you say so. But whether you think they are or not, his legacy is one of wit and cheek. There is so much humor and beyond that earnestness in his books. I don’t think I can ever be as intelligent as he writes so casually.
These are my top five, and in retrospect, I suppose I would say that what connects each of these authors to me in their writing is the way they create experiences. It’s not about making sure the reader understands everything, it’s about making sure the reader understands the protagonist enough to be captivated by the life they are living.
As a point of explanation; I composed this list only of adult science fiction and fantasy authors. By this I mean if you go into a bookstore the majority of their writing would be found in this section for one reason or another. I bring this up because I think the division between adult and young adult/teen fantasy is important because while we can read both, the author’s audience needs to be kept in mind when you consider what, why, and how they are writing. And because it makes it easier to pick and choose who goes on the list. 🙂
So, who do you wish you could write like?