You can't be a writer without being a reader. The more you read, the better writer you become.
I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss—you can’t do it alone.” ― John Cheever
John Cheever might as well have said that “I can’t write without being a reader.” Sitting at my desk on a sunny day of the hottest Indian summer in 130 years, I am taking the liberty to modify the American short-story writer and novelist’s words.
Words can’t inspire you if you don’t appreciate them. You won’t know what to write without reading what others are writing. You can’t be a writer without a reader. Or at least a successful writer.
Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. Just like exercise makes you physically fit, reading helps you learn, sharpen and hone your writing skills. The more you read, the better writer you become. Reading not only expands your imagination, emotions, narrative and vocabulary but also influences your writing in unexpected ways.
One of the reasons for my being a writer is the pure joy that I feel while immersing myself in the worlds created by others more gifted than me. And while I read a lot of authors, there are some whose consistent works have left an indelible mark on my impressionable writer’s mind and whose influence has subconsciously crept on my work.
My Favourite Five: Top 5 Fiction Authors I admire
Here is my list of favourite Top 5 Fiction Authors and how they have inspired my writings:
Outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare, Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time. She is best known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, particularly those revolving around fictional detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. She is also the author of The Mousetrap, the longest-running play in modern theatre history.
One-quarter of my home bookshelf is occupied entirely by her works, the yellow pages not deterring me from going through them again and again.
Despite the unparalleled suspense and mystery that characterises Agatha Christie’s works, my takeaway from her novels and stories has been her detailed character sketches. Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple are etched in every book lover’s mind more because of their impeccable characterisations than their detective skills. I have yet to read another writer who etches out her characters with such elaborate detail.
More than the story, plot or narration, the characters are what matters in a story. My learning from Christie’s works is that readers root for characters. The characters hold centre stage in each and every fiction of mine.
Jeffrey Howard Archer, Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare, is an English novelist, life peer and former politician. He has written 26 novels, 7 sets of short stories, 3 prison diaries, 3 plays and a gospel. That he wrote his first novel in 1974 and remains a bestselling author almost half a century later is a testament to his writing prowess.
From ‘Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less’ to the latest William Warwick novel ‘Over My Dead Body’, his entire body of works graces my home library.
As a writer, my most significant takeaway from his books is the ‘twist’ in the end. In most of my works, my endeavour is to keep the reader guessing about the ending. I strive to leave my readers with wide eyes and mouths open after they finish my stories. I keep on going back to his books to deploy red herrings in my stories time and again.
Chetan Bhagat is an Indian author, columnist and YouTuber who has authored ten novels and three non-fiction books. An IIT-IIM graduate, he pivoted to writing from an investment banking career and, in the process, expanded the market for English Fiction in India.
I have read all the fiction works of my favourite Indian author, but his debut ‘Five Point Someone’ continues to be my favourite.
Simple is powerful is my takeaway from his works. Bhagat’s works, shorn of jargon and complicated vocabulary, speak the language of their readers, something which I strive to replicate in my works. I want the readers to enjoy my work rather than refer to a dictionary on every page. I don’t use bombastic words and verbose phrases in my stories, which I believe is essential for writers to reach out to more readers.
4. John Grisham
John Ray Grisham Jr. is an American novelist and lawyer known for his acclaimed legal thrillers. Author of forty-seven consecutive bestsellers translated into nearly fifty languages, he is the master of the niche space he created.
I started reading John Grisham’s novels in my preteen years and continue to do so to date. Besides the thrill factor in his works, the in-depth settings in his novels never fail to impress me. He uses his legal background to good use to create inspiring fiction.
As an author, I am learning the art of mastering the familiar from Grisham. Of course, there is no dearth of research material in this internet era. But for the readers to visualise your novel in their minds, the setting has to be vivid and come across as authentic. That is why I stick to the spaces I am familiar with or inhabited in my works- the middle-class milieu, the high-rise apartments, the corporate world etc. Going in-depth into a few rather than spreading yourself thin is my mantra.
Danielle Fernandes Dominique Schuelein-Steel is an American writer best known for her romance novels. As of 2021, she has written 190 books, including over 141 novels. She is best known for the brand of romance in her books. Her fictional romance novels typically centre on strong yet glamorous women overcoming major obstacles or ordeals to secure a career, love, and a family. In Steele’s novels, women eventually get it all.
The depiction of feelings has stood out for me in Steele’s work ever since I started reading her as a teenager. While descriptions, settings and narrations have their place in fiction, for a book to strike a chord with the readers, they need to root for its characters. This is possible when readers emphatise with their characters- they feel what the characters feel. I have learned how to use emotion as a tool to hook readers from Steele’s works.
I Am My Own Person as a Writer
Paying attention to the nuances of characters, ending with a twist factor, using simple but powerful words, going in-depth into familiar settings and giving prominence to emotions characterise me as a writer. I am my own person and don’t imitate and copy anyone’s writing style. However, going by the flavour of modifying quotes— a writer is an amalgamation of the top 5 authors that they read. So is the case with me; I have drawn from the works of some famous authors to become what I am.
Who are your favourite authors? How have they inspired you as a writer or a person?
Smita Das Jain is the bestselling author of ‘A Slice Of Life: Every Person Has A Story.’ An SRCC and IIM Indore Alumna with 14+ years of leadership experience in Fortune 500 companies, Smita is a Personal Empowerment Life Coach and Executive Coach by profession, and a writer by passion who writes every day. Her award-winning stories have been published in The WriteFluence 2022 Anthology, Women's Web 2022 Anthology, The Auroras and Blossoms 2021 Anthology, StoryMirror, Penmancy, Women's Web and Twist and Twain. Smita has been featured in The Pioneer, The Daily Guardian, and New York-based Authority Magazine. Readers can access her creative fiction published on multiple platforms at https://www.smitaswritepen.com/