Nine authors we’d take a writing seminar from


Which is a neat idea for a post! Did anybody else instantly want to re-write that title as “Nine fantastic authors from whom we’d take a writing seminar”? Because I did. I like a more formal style — mostly — except sometimes in dialogue, depending on who is speaking. That means I’m one of the people who prefers to tuck the preposition into the middle of the sentence, generally, rather than letting it hang off the end.

I can immediately think of a good handful of fantastic authors who might be able to run an amazing seminar, depending on whether they can teach something about style and narrative structure, which I imagine is not necessarily going to be the case. Still.

I would bet that zero of the authors mentioned by this Book Riot post would be on my personal list, but let’s take a look …

Oh, nope, I was wrong. I both recognize and agree with their third choice: Suzannah Clarke, author of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I have to look closely at the spelling of the names in that title every single time or I misspell one or the other, so not sure I’d go to Clarke for advice on writing titles. Plus I doubt I will ever re-read this book. But the writing is absolutely beautiful.

Ah, and the fourth name is Jim Butcher! I didn’t see that coming. I’ve only ever read one Dresden Files novel. It was fine, but I haven’t read any more, partly because there are so many. Anyway, here’s what the post says about Butcher: Butcher is a master of pacing and constantly raising the stakes. In every Dresden Files novel, Butcher is able to pile on problems and enemies, effectively working Harry Dresden into a seemingly insurmountable corner before Harry battles his way out. 

Okay, that’s fair — quite a few authors are good at that — I’ll see in a minute if I can think of a couple more names for this.

Those are the two names I recognize, but this post makes a good case for each author it singles out. Click through and read the rest if you’ve got a minute.

Now, here are some names that leaped to my mind for this topic:

1) Nicola Griffith. Beautiful style at the sentence level plus writing that is almost a sensory experience. I don’t know of anyone who does better at creating a sensual world using nothing but words on a page. HILD can also stand up with Clarke’s JS&MN for amazing narrative structure, plus I personally liked it better and will reread it eventually.

2) Since we’re talking about tension and piling up obstacles, how about CS Forester, author of the Horatio Hornblower novels? I recently read The Good Shepherd. Wow, is that a nonstop-tension story. It all takes place over a couple of days as a battleship commander escorts ships through sub-infested waters during WWII.

3) CJ Cherryh. She could discuss developing and writing alien species. No one does that better.

4) Ilona Andrews. They could talk about writing witty dialogue. While we’re on the subject of witty dialogue, Lindsey Buroker could also handle that topic in a seminar. Personally, I think that kind of dialogue is a knack, rather than something that can be taught. But if there are ways to learn to do it, I wouldn’t mind learning how.

5) Alice Degan / AJ Demas could be a good choice. Her One Night in Boukos showcases worldbuilding, witty dialogue, quick pacing, and a light tone laid across deeper themes.

What authors spring to mind for you, if you got to line up writing instructors at a seminar?

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11 thoughts on “Nine authors we’d take a writing seminar from”

  1. Before RWA imploded, they used to have truly excellent workshops at their yearly convention. I picked up some audio recordings that were very helpful from authors such as Joanna Bourne and Jennifer Crusie.

  2. I have to say, Jim Butcher wouldn’t be on my list. I used to love the Dresden Files, but haven’t even bothered with the last couple. Constantly raising the stakes isn’t any good – you’ve got to let the tension decrease sometimes too, or else the series becomes exhausting.

    Maggie Stiefvater’s seminars are probably interesting – she’s excellent at creating characters and settings that feel real, and that thus make their fantasy elements feel real too.

  3. Allan L Shampine

    Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith actually have a kickstarter going on right now for a bunch of their lectures and notes on writing and publishing.

  4. Kathryn McConaughy

    If you wanted to give Butcher another try, his book The Aeronaut’s Windlass is probably his best. Not a Dresden Files book. It has strong characters and a very sound plot. It also contains the most truly catlike talking cat I’ve ever come across.

  5. Kathryn, that sounds like a great book to try! I would like to see a really catlike talking cat — and I’d definitely prefer a standalone rather than one of a very long series.

  6. I’m afraid the Aeronaut’s Windlass is not a stand-alone, it’s part of the Cinder Spires series.

  7. Elizabeth Bear. Not all her books are good, but nearly all of them are distinctive, and all have excellent language.

  8. Allan, does it stand alone rather than ending on a cliffhanger?

    Although either way, the first book of a short series would appeal to me more than the first book of a super-long series.

  9. I haven’t read it, although it’s on our shelves because my husband has. He would really like Butcher to get to the next one, but says it ended decently enough as far as he remembers.

    I stopped reading Dresden back around the zombie dinosaur entry, so I’m way behind. The Teen went further and says they got more and more grim, thus has now lost interest. WHich doesn’t mean he’d be a bad teacher. He writes different styles – Harry’s narrative is very different from the Calderon series narrative. He has things he could teach .

    Can’t think of anyone I’d particularly jump on a lesson from.

  10. I heard Maggie Stiefvater at a writer’s event once and she was fantastic: I would definitely take any kind of seminar from her. Mary Robinette Kowal gives amazing seminars. I like her books; they aren’t my favourite favourites or anything but they’re good. But she is an excellent teacher.

    Jim Butcher really knows what he’s doing. I’m mostly caught up on the Dresden Files, and, though I agree that more and more tension does get tiring, he’s really great at expanding his world and developing his characters so it’s not just more of the same, but interesting consequences of past decisions. Changes was a phenomenal book. I would definitely take plot and worldbuilding classes from him!

    (Loved the cats in Aeronat’s Windlass! I don’t think it was too terrible of a cliffhanger but I know I’m still waiting for the next book!)

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