I absolutely love to read thriller novels, both for adult and for younger audiences, and here are ten of my all-time favorites…
As a gay person, I absolutely love to read LGBTQ novels, both for adult and for younger audiences. Earlier this week I shared five of my all-time favorites.
Below are five more I also adore with all my heart!
1. Better Nate Than Ever, by Tim Federle
2. Close Range: Wyoming Stories, by Annie Proulx
3. Golden Boy, by Abigail Tarttelin
4. Highly Illogical Behavior, by John Corey Whaley
5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,
During the reading [of the first draft], the top part of my mind is concentrating on story and toolbox concerns. Underneath, however, I’m asking myself the Big Questions. The biggest: Is this story coherent? And if it is, what will turn coherence into song? What are the recurring elements? Do they entwine and make a theme? I’m asking myself What’s it all about, Stevie, in other words, and what I can do to make those underlying concerns even clearer.
Yesterday I wrote about the great thrill it is to read through the first draft of your novel in one sitting, long after you’ve let the manuscript sit for four weeks or longer.
I made it clear that for the most part you’re not taking hundreds of little notes along the way. You’re reading the novel to read it. To experience the book like a reader. To see so clearly what’s working and what’s not.
Yes, you should be jotting down notes here and there if you notice something and don’t want to forget about it later. But for the most part, you’re reading for the experience itself.
While reading your first draft, pay attention to story problems, to confused character motivations.
There are two parts to reading through your first draft, and this initial step is important for sure, an important aspect that can’t be ignored.
When a character is acting one way in chapter five and then a different way in chapter six for no apparent reason, make a note of that. If there’s a huge story inconsistency at the middle of the book, write down what it is. If there’s a plot hole you find at the end, by all means take a minute and jot it on a pad.
If you finish your first draft on a Friday and then start reading through it the following Monday, many of these problems and inconsistencies you won’t even notice. You’re still too close to your story, your characters. You can’t see the forest from the trees.
Something might be so obvious and glaring you don’t even need to write it down, but if you think you might forget it, then yes, take a few notes, but remember to keep reading and not stop every third paragraph to write something down.
If it’s taking you all night to get through a chapter, there’s a problem. You’re focusing on too much minutia. You should focus on story, on character, on the top elements of a writer’s toolbox.
And you should also be focused on the Big Questions of your novel, most especially theme.
The second part of reading through your first draft is moving beyond concerns of story and character and focusing on the bigger picture. Focusing on theme. What your book is really about. What lies at its heart and what you want the reader to take away when he or she closes the final page.
Theme is so important to a great novel. In some ways theme is the reason for writing the book in the first place. It’s where the characters and setting and story often stem from.
Revision of a novel is helpful in so many areas, but one area it’s extremely helpful in is highlighting and enhancing the theme of your story. It’s taking elements that are already there in your first draft and bringing them out even more and making them clearer to your reader.
Now keep this in mind that you don’t want to beat your reader over the head with your themes and larger issues. If the reader gets distracted from the story because you’re shoving the theme in his or her face, that’s a mistake. You want to enhance the theme considerably when you revise, but not to the extent that it become too obvious. There’s a balance you want to find.
Ultimately your read of the first draft will make your novel better in the long run.
The last five novels I’ve written going back to 2015 are better than anything else I’ve written for a few reasons. One, I was attending an MFA in Creative Writing program that helped me considerably in my writing skills. Two, I reached out to more beta readers during that time, signed with a literary agent during that time, and have been able to strengthen my novels through lots of feedback from others.
And three? I took the necessary time to let each first draft rest for awhile, preferably six weeks or longer, then I took each novel out of the drawer and read through the entire manuscript in one single sitting. Before I even started the second draft, I was able in that sitting to catch so much of what was working thus far and what problems were so entirely obvious.
Those problems don’t always come to light when you revise a chapter a day. But they do make themselves clear when you read it all through at once.
So take the time to read your first drafts quickly and carefully — in one sitting if at all possible. Look at story and character problems that might arise, but also take the time to ask yourself the Big Questions too, especially when it comes to theme. Your novel will be all the better for it!
In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,
[After six weeks of rest], take your manuscript out of the drawer. Sit down with your door shut, a pencil in your hand, and a legal pad by your side. Then read your manuscript over. Do it all in one sitting, if that’s possible. If you’ve never done it before, you’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience.
Yesterday I wrote about the importance of letting your novel rest between drafts. You want to do it for a month at minimum, and preferably six weeks or longer.
There are all sorts of reasons to do this. It will make you see the flaws easier. It will make the revising go better. You will ultimately have a better time going through your work when you haven’t looked at it in awhile.
The other reason to let your novel sit between drafts?
When you take out that first draft and read it for the first time, the experience will be a total thrill.
Stephen King is right: reading your fiction after you haven’t looked at it in a long time is a completely exhilarating experience. Because enough time has passed that you can read it as a reader, not as a writer. Enough will be new to you that you can experience your book the same way a reader might.
Don’t do what I’ve done in the past. Not letting my manuscript rest at all and just going straight into the next draft with barely a breath taken. You might think you’re being smart in doing this, that you’re saving time, but the irony is you’re actually wasting time, because your book will never receive the revision it needs.
Worse? The experience reading through your novel over and over will become a chore the more you do it. You will have memorized every little moment that there will be no more chances for surprises.
Not taking breaks will also take a toll on your mental health too, I’m telling you, so yes, please take breaks from your novel!
Take long ones. A month if possible. Two months if you can manage. The longer the better really. The longer time you take the better the next revision will go.
But before you begin the second draft, take a few hours and read through your novel in one sitting.
This is a part of the process I didn’t start doing until recently, and let me tell you something — I absolutely love it.
Again, you might find this to be a waste of time. Actually reading your novel without revising along the way? Who has time for that, you might think.
Now, first of all, you should make the time for this because you will be able to experience your novel like a reader for maybe the one and only time. You simply cannot experience your novel like a reader when you revise a chapter every day, when you only look at a select group of pages every day.
You need to read your novel all the way through, and in doing this, you will automatically see the biggest problems the manuscript has. I always do.
And by all means, take occasional notes on a piece of paper along the way. When you notice something terrible in chapter twelve, sure, you might not remember what that problem was when you reach the end of the read. So jot down some things here and there.
At the same time though, do not stop on every page and make notes. You won’t have the thoroughly exhilarating experience of reading through your entire manuscript in one sitting.
So take the time to read through the first draft of your novel. You will love it!
You won’t love it if you finish your first draft on a Friday and then read it all the way through on Saturday. You will still be thinking about the ending, about what you did or didn’t do well. You’ll still be too close to it.
So let your novel rest for 4 weeks or longer, then pick a morning or afternoon or evening where you have nothing to do, sit down with your novel (preferably hardcopy, but on your laptop or a tablet works, too), and read it from beginning to end, in one sitting if at all possible.
In the life of a novelist, this is one of the most incredible reading experiences you will ever have, trust me! It won’t be a slog. It won’t be painful. It will be loads of fun, I guarantee it.
Don’t feel like you have to sit and read your entire novel after every draft. I don’t necessarily do it after I complete the second draft, or the third. Or the tenth.
But after you complete the first draft, definitely give it a period of rest, and then pick that one glorious day where you read through the entirety of the novel. It’s nothing short of a total thrill!
As a gay person, I absolutely love to read LGBTQ novels, both for adult and for younger audiences, and here are my five all-time favorites…
1. Boy Meets Boy, by David Levithan
2. A Home at the End of the World, by Michael Cunningham
3. The Miseducation of Cameron Post, by Emily M. Danforth
4. Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez
5. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamine Alire Sanchez
There are lots of great literary novels out there, but these are five I highly recommend you take a look at!
1. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
The Goldfinch is one of the ten best books I’ve ever read. Sometimes literary novels have such a focus on the beauty of the prose that the story gets lost, but Tartt has a remarkable ability to blend strong writing with a consistently entertaining story. Her style of writing is as specific as it is highly approachable. Almost every page offered at least one sentence that wowed me. Every character is sharply drawn — from the protagonist Theo to his friend Boris to the thugs in Amsterdam. The way Tartt keeps the painting The Goldfinch an important element throughout the narrative is impressive, and I loved that the novel mixes various genres, like coming-of-age, literary fiction, thriller, and, I’d argue, young adult. Overall, The Goldfinch impressed me all the way through.
2. Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng
I absolutely loved this literary book. A few elements separate this novel from a typical supermarket-selling adult murder mystery, and the stylish prose is certainly one of them. The second literary quality is the choice of omniscient point-of-view, which allows for these stylish prose as well as the ability to go into any character’s head whenever she wants. Author Ng is able to create a whole world with this point-of-view choice, giving us so much when something like first-person from one character never could have done the job. Another literary quality is the emphasis on backstory. Again, many authors would have been perfectly willing to have this entire narrative play out in the present, showing how this family reacts to Lydia’s death, and that would have made a strong novel to be sure. But about half of this book takes place in flashback, building up the backstory of all the characters, and this strategy not only adds terrific tension to the current events but also allows for worthwhile character development.
3. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
The Bluest Eye is one of the most highly regarded works by Pulitzer Prize-winner Toni Morrison, and it’s easy to see why. This is a gorgeous, unusual, affecting novel, Morrison’s first to be published. I sat down expecting a book all told from the perspective of eleven-year-old Pecola, and the first big surprise I admired was Morrison’s ambitious and playful use of POV. The unusual POV structure is a central literary element of this book, but there are others. Early in this short novel, Morrison stops the narrative to deliver setting details of the city for three whole pages. And the style of her prose is always striking, using short, punchy sentences when writing in first person, and more stylized sentences when talking in third, I was also impressed by the frank and involving discussion about race throughout, Morrison never shying away from the truth. These issues make up so much of what the book is about — uncertain identity, fear of the other — and Morrison explores them in great depth and detail.
4. The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters
The Little Stranger is a fantastically spooky horror novel, and I love its many literary qualities. The first literary quality I admired was its attention to setting, which often relates to Hundreds Hall. A non-literary horror novel would make mention of a few of the house’s qualities, but not as many as Waters makes the time for early in the book, again, allowing the estate to become its own major character. A second literary quality in the book is its focus on character rather than plot. Unlike many horror novels that focus on a series of scary moments and increasingly tense actions made by the main characters, The Little Stranger is always more concerned with making the reader care about the characters before anything unfortunate happens to them. A third literary quality is the quality of the prose, which is often striking and memorable. It must be noted of course that Waters never goes overboard with stylish prose; even in her sections of big, block paragraphs, her sentences are imaginative but readable, a little wordy but clear, never outrageous in its pursuit of the truth.
5. Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh
Eileen is a terrific literary thriller well worth a read. First, the novel is literary in its focus on character over plot, and I would argue it’s most literary in this regard. The book has a harrowing finale with a major twist, but Moshfegh is much more interested in the journey Eileen takes to get there. The book is literary for its stylish prose, as well, especially when it comes to description, and the historical time period — Christmas 1964 — makes for a literary element as well. One tremendous aspect of the book is Eileen herself, one of the most disturbed and compelling protagonists I’ve read in a work of fiction in a long time. Eileen is darkly funny, always smart, and sometimes vicious in the way she thinks, and I loved every minute spending time with her. This one’s definitely well worth a read!
Richard Adams (1920–2016) was a supremely gifted writer most famous for his acclaimed novel Watership Down, which has been read and shared all around the world. Here are five quotes he said over the years that will absolutely help you in your writing!
1. If I had known how frightfully well I could write, I’d have started earlier.
Some of us get started writing at an early age. The first short story I remember writing was called “The Haunted Library” during the third grade, so I would have been nine years old. Writing every word of that story was a total thrill… and I haven’t really stopped since. There was a period where I was only writing screenplays and not fiction, from the ages of fourteen to twenty-four, but I’ve always been writing.
It’s a good thing to recognize something you’re good at as early as possible. But if you never start writing? Whether you’re too scared, or too busy, or too unsure of yourself? That’s one of the worst sins of all. To not share your gifts with the world. To not go after the dream. I’m sure there are thousands of people in this world who could be amazing writers, but for one reason or another have just never gotten started.
You’ve heard someone say it before, I’m sure: “I might try to write a book one day.” Most of these people won’t write the book. But a few might, and what’s a shame is someone in their fifties or sixties or even older suddenly realizing how well they can write. They should have started decades earlier! Just you being here, reading these words, looking for inspiration in your own work, is definitely a good place to start.
2. We are all human and fall short of where we need to be. We must never stop trying to be the best we can be.
You can think of this quote in all aspects of your life, but I think it definitely relates to your writing because you should never stop trying to make it the best it can be. Writing is extremely competitive. There’s so much talent out there. So many manuscripts. So many people vying for readers’ attention. You can’t just be decent. You can’t get 70% of the way there on a manuscript, and say, ehh, good enough.
You’ll never be able to make your writing perfect. Please, don’t even strive for perfection. But you should always, always, always try to make your writing the very best it can be. Don’t settle for something less. Settling for less means all the hard work you put into this particular project might have been all for nothing. Why not put another month of work into it and get it to the place it needs to be? It’s the best thing you can do for your writing, and it’s the best thing you can do for yourself.
3. You know how you let yourself think everything will be all right if you can get to a certain place or do a certain thing. But when you get there you find it’s not that simple.
Another reason you should always try to write to the best of your ability is that you’ll find time and time just how hard writing is, and that reaching the end of a first draft is a mere stage in the process. You might get to the end of that first draft thinking, now I’ve done it, now everything will be simple. I have words on the page! I have my complete story down on paper! Everything from here on out is the easy part!
Not so fast. There’s difficulty in completing the first draft of a manuscript, particularly a novel, but there’s a different kind of difficulty in revising, and revising well. You get to the revising stage thinking it will be fairly simple, that all you’ll need to do is read your wonderful work through a few times and maybe fix some typos and cut a sentence here and there.
Such is the farthest thing from the truth. Revising is is no way simple. It takes a different side of your brain to do it well in a way, because while you’re still being creative, you’re using more of an intellectual thought process in terms of what you have to do to make your writing shine its brightest. Unless you’re super lucky, and your first draft is absolutely brilliant, you’re going to need to revise your work often, taking on one draft after another, until it’s finally ready to be seen by others.
4. I’ve always said that Watership Down is not a book for children. I say: it’s a book, and anyone who wants to read it can read it.
This is the truth of all books, isn’t it? Even though when you write a novel for children, you need to think about certain guidelines that will help sell your book, specific kinds of expectations you should have in the back of your mind at least when you’re revising. For example, don’t write a young adult novel that features a twenty-year-old protagonist. And don’t write a middle grade novel that’s 135,000 words.
But once you achieve success as a writer, and your book is finally out in the world, that book belongs to whichever readers find it. If you’ve written a young adult novel, don’t for a second think that only teenagers will ever read it. All kinds of people love to read books aimed at younger audiences. And many younger audiences love to read adult novels, too! I remember reading Stephen King books as early as age 10. And now that I’m an adult myself, I read middle grade and young adult books all the time.
Don’t look at your latest book as a book for children. It’s a book, plain and simple. And anyone who wants to read it will read it.
5. The thinker dies, but his thoughts are beyond the reach of destruction. Men are mortal; but ideas are immortal.
This is why books are so important. It’s why Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 still resonates to this day. The idea that you can destroy the thinker and thereby destroy the thoughts that come from that person is a falsehood. It’s why people die twice in a way — once when they die, and second when the last person on Earth dies who remembers him or her. The thoughts themselves? They never die, as long as people are still sharing those thoughts.
Books live forever in a way because people share the stories with others long after they’ve turned the last page. Decade after decade, century after century, books stay with us, become part of us. And to be an author means, in a way, that you get to be immortal, too. Because long after you’re gone, your ideas and stories remain. They still move people, still entertain people, still open up a world to a child or an adult in ways you can never even imagine.
We’re all mortal, and one day we’ll no longer be here. But our ideas? Our thoughts? Our stories? They’re forever.