René Penn

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Writing Tips from Reading Gail Carriger’s Soulless

Years ago, I didn’t read as much as I should have, much to my mother’s chagrin. Of course, that changed over the years. Reading became one of my absolute fave activities. Not only is it a wonderful experience, it provides inspiration and a great teaching tool for me as an aspiring author.kate-williams-40159

A friend recently told me about the author Gail Carriger, because she knows I’m working on a comedy-of-manners novel. Carriger’s novel, Soulless, is that–plus a historical romance, plus werewolves and vampires, plus a who-done-it plot. I must admit that I’m not usually into paranormal romance, but I’m all for trying new things. Frankly, I enjoyed the read. Here are some lessons I learned while reading Soulless by Gail Carriger

Reading Carriger’s novel inspired me to toggle between reading her book and writing my own. I want people to enjoy reading my book as much as I enjoyed reading hers.

  • She shows that witty description can be just as important as witty banter

In the beginning of the novel, the heroine is being attacked by a vampire. The heroine is annoyed by the attacker’s futile attempt, as well as his “overly starched shirt.” I learned that dialogue doesn’t have to be the only place to express humor.

  • She singlehandedly convinced me that werewolves can be sexy

Like I said before, paranormal romance isn’t really my thing. But Carriger made me think differently about big, hairy beasts. Uh, moving along…

  • She makes an alternative world seem believable

The novel is set in London, 1800s, where werewolves and vampires are part of British society. An unbelievable concept, but she sold me on it. She provided lots of information and tidbits about this other society–sometimes repeating them to make sure the reader’s got it. It helped bridge the gap between a far-fetched idea and magical make-believe. Nicely done.

What should I add to this list? How much do you love Gail Carriger’s Soulless?

Photo by Kate Williams on Unsplash


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How I Read Books as an Aspiring Author

I don’t know when I turned a corner and started reading books with my “writer hat” on. vanessa-serpas-270252

You know what I mean: The moment you change from a passive reader to an active one. When you’re no longer escaping when you pick up a book, you’re analyzing. Instead of holding a cup of tea (or coffee, if you so choose) with your free, non-book-wielding hand, you’re holding a pen to mark notes, scribble and underline within passages. Here’s what I look for, as an aspiring author, when I read books.

  • Tone

Tone comes across immediately. It’s more of a feeling than anything I can pinpoint–I’m just immersed. It’s like swagger; you know it when you see it. When I see it, read it, feel it, I want to emulate it in my own writing. Example: My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante.

  • Dialogue

I love dialogue. This is why I have half-written scripts collecting electronic dust. And it’s why I love movies. I know dialogue is good when I can imagine it playing before me like a film. Example: One Day, David Nicholls.

  • Pace

When a book is not going too slow, nor too fast, I note the pacing. It dives into details when needed and trims the fat at the right times. I don’t walk away feeling like pockets of the plot are missing. Example: Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese.

  • Length

I’m not usually a fan of long books. I blame it on graduate school, where I had to read Mason & Dixon. I’m more impressed by a book that is compact and concise but still leaves me feeling full as a tick. Example: The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison.

  • Setting

This is when the sights, sounds and tastes throw me out of reality–and I have to look out the nearest window to remind myself where I am. Example: Faith for Beginners, Aaron Hamburger.

There are a million great examples for each of these. Which ones have inspired you?

Photo by Vanessa Serpas on Unsplash