Writing and Reading Like a Writer

Like Pope Francis, Diana Gabaldon is one of my heroes, but not because she wrote best selling novels translated in zillions of other languages, won awards and recently her first book, Outlander has aired as a television series on Starz network. I adore this author because I think she has some of the most well balanced writing skills I have ever read.. She’s a master of all the tricks of the trade and if you want to improve your craft you must try to learn from the best.. Read, Read Read! And then read some more. As a writer, myself,  I learn by reading, study other writers and seeing what makes them tick.  Diana tells her readers she wrote her first novel for practice, not knowing if it would ever sell; kept it a secret from her own husband. That was over twenty years ago and not only did her first historical novel, Outlander sell but she has such a huge fan base that readers have dedicated, websites, blogs, planned trips to Scotland to visit the scenes in her book, and written a musical.. I have read thousands of words by this woman. I have every ebook, hard cover and paperback she’s ever published. My paperbacks are highlighted and tagged so I can go back and learn from her skillful prose.

imageI’ve read lots of novels that I love but this is the only author whom I’ve not said to myself, “ok, enough of that, time to read something else.”

If you are a writer like me, here are some of the tools I’ve learned from her books but I must admit I am still learning. I’ve listed 5 but I could go on forever.

1. Heart stopping romantic dialogue and action that makes you want to go “Awwwww.”  Spoiler Alert: A favorite scene is when Jamie, the Scottish hero gets down on one knee, holds up a dagger and swears an oath of loyalty, not to his Scottish Chieftain but  to his wife!

Horseback Outlander2. Suspense Every writing coach will tell you that tension should be on every page, something easier said than done.

2. Active Setting Setting should not only set the stage but set the mood and Diana is so creative with her setting that not only did I smelled and tasted it. I  remember a scene in the early American wilderness in a thunder and lightning storm. I felt terrified. Where would they go? How could they escape this ..  and when a character was raped. I felt violated for days!. A writer must get the reader to feel the experience and expertly employ all 5 senses to capture their heart.

Heather in the Highlands3. Keep the reader guessing and the art of delayed gratification.  Secrets. Secrets. and more Secrets. Never tell the reader everything in the beginning of the book. They must have a reason to keep reading. Heard of Cliffhangers? Diana loads her books with them. I’ve even had to read the next book to see what happens. I believe Diana has even hinted at the ending in the last book of the series, which isn’t even published yet and we hope won’t come for years.  And we’re talking thousands of pages girls! .

Scottish Highlands 4.Give your characters flaws and then redeem them.
. Even the most lovable characters have flaws or things they need to know and sometimes its good for a reader to be quite shocked by what their character says or does. It makes them human. This also gives the character a chance to grow and become a better person. Spoiler alert, In Outlander, Jamie (the hearththrob ohh la la!) does something that some readers found quite shocking, he spanks his wife. Although his was perfectly acceptable for the time, he realizes the error of his ways and vows never to touch her in that way again. (Remember #1? See above) He is redeemed later in the book. I think Diana even got hate mail over that one. I read about a blogger who had claimed to have hated the books but then she kept reading the series anyway. I’m guessing that’s over 10,000 pages! Maybe a million words, lol. What is it they say? All publicity is good, just make sure they get my name spelled right.


5. Teach the reader something through the history.
It is an author’s responsibility to transport the reader back in time in such a way that he feels he is living in the period. As an author, our details lend frosting to the story; they should not be sprinkled on top like nuts on a cookie.  This also goes back to active setting. Details, setting, time period, and even mood are all related and support each other. Large passages of details should never be written like an info-dump that make the readers eyes glaze over and flip pages ahead.. Insert sensory whenever possible and not just visual but smell, taste, feel, texture, and sound and then see how you can relate that to the mood of the scene.

*** As a Writer, we must always keep reading!!!!

I am actively promoting any novels set in Ireland, tips on Irish travel. Irish History and all things Irish. Oh, and I have a book too. The Sun Palace, set in sixth century Ireland. So if you have something to add  please leave a comment or if you love Irish history subscribe. I’d love to hear from you. Slainte.



3 thoughts on “Writing and Reading Like a Writer

  1. Christine, thank you for stopping by and your wonderful comments are so appreciated. Btw, in what genre do you write and it is most welcome for you to mention the title here. I’m sure readers would e interested.

  2. Brighid, another excellent post. Thank you!

    I completely agree that a writer MUST read…and read and read. And not just in her genre, but all sorts of books, fiction and nonfiction. Good writing is good writing and the important thing is to notice effective writing, analyze why it is effective, then transfer that understanding to one’s own writing.

    Number 4 on your list is something that I came to realize as I wrote my first novel. I had one character (a favorite character of mine) who, initially, was nearly a saint. I am a recovering perfectionist, and as I came to the epiphany that perfectionism (in terms of expecting oneself NEVER to make a mistake and always to do things perfectly) was a dysfunctional way to think because human beings are not perfect, I had to take a good long look at this favorite character. I went back and gave him flaws–and he became a better, more likable, and much more interesting character as a result. In my current WIP novel, my main character is DEFINITELY flawed and my critique partners love her–in a great part because of her flaws (which, of course, are balanced with good points). They know her buttons and they smile because they know most of the time how she’s going to react to certain statements or situations (a character shouldn’t be entirely predictable though). They feel they know her well. She has become like a close friend whom they love as much for her faults as for her compassion, courage, and spirit–and for her growth as she learns from her mistakes and imperfections.

    Number 3 is spot on. As a reader, I love suspense and foreshadowing. Cliffhangers make for page turners. A character doing something that’s intriguing but that doesn’t entirely make sense makes me want to find out why (and the why better come later–that’s a bond of trust between the reader and the writer. Foreshadowing is my favorite, in part because I read so much that I tend to recognize it–but not always–and it makes the second read of a novel that much more fun because the reader now knows how important that scene or that sentence is.

    Final note: Diana Gabaldon is a brilliant writer! The Outlander series is excellent.

    All the best,


  3. Pingback: Why History Should be Taught Through Historical Novels - Celtic ThoughtsCeltic Thoughts

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