TCWT Blog Chain: Learn by Example

I promise this blog is actually going to have posts on it soon. I promise. Even if it’s just crying about editing, I will get something down.


This month’s blog chain poses the question:

“What works of fiction have taught you by example, and what did they teach you?”

I’m going to cop out as I always do and say that everything I read teaches me something, whether it’s what sort of story I want to write, what cliches to avoid, at what point in a series one must give up the ghost and wrap the poor thing up, etc.

The books I learn the most from, though, are the absolutely terrible ones.

I don’t read as much as I used to or should do, but about four or five years ago, my mum started buying me really cheap Kindle books so she could keep up with the demand I set. I read at a ridiculous pace — often I’d be reading one or two books per week — and I was reading my family out of house and home. So, as I said, my mum bought me some really cheap books.

I used to berate my mum for buying these books. They were cheap because they were self-published, sometimes seemingly unedited, and they were always the first book in what had to be a painfully long series. I hated reading these books, but it was them or nothing and I had morals about only putting down a book if I absolutely had to, so I read them.

And as I read them, I started to learn a few things. The first thing I learnt was that I absolutely hated typos, but the others were more useful than that. I started to get a feel for the pattern behind story-telling (although I’m still not entirely certain that I can replicate it in my own writing), I started to learn what my cringe-level was (because when books got too cringy, they were a lost cause), and I started to notice what I like to call story-telling gaps.

Whatever writing-based site you go on, they’re always going to have a post about how to ‘show, not tell’, but they never mention that you have to strike a balance — or at least do one or the other. These story-telling gaps were where the authors had been so focused on not telling that either they forgot to do the showing, or the showing just wasn’t clear enough. It doesn’t happen often, because people generally tell more, but every now and again I find a gap in a story. Often it seems like the author’s brain is just racing ahead as they write, and they can’t be bothered explaining why exactly the fairies are circling and what that actually means because surely that’s obvious. It’s never obvious to me though.

Noticing these gaps can be really helpful when editing (although chances are that beta readers will be better at catching them than the writer is) because it makes you aware of every little thing you’ve written. It’s also probably why people find it most effective to wait a while before editing, I think, because then you can’t remember the logic anymore — you can’t remember all the rules of fairy world, so when you read it back, you’re as clueless as your readers would be as to why the fairies are circling.

I learnt something even more important to me than story-telling gaps, though — that I really don’t want to half-bake my novels and publish them on the cheap.

December 2014 blog chain prompt/schedule:





















25th – [off-day]





30th and

31st – (We’ll announce the topic for next month’s chain.)


7 thoughts on “TCWT Blog Chain: Learn by Example

  1. This is a fascinating idea, probably because you learned from a situation rather than a particular title. I love that! I too hate typos, but I think it’s fascinating what kinds of things you can learn from crappy books—and, I’m sure, things you’ve vowed that you will never do yourself in your own writing. This is a great perspective. 🙂


  2. I actually think it‘s funny you think you learned from reading the bad books rather than the good ones, because I once signed up to get a book emailed to me by it‘s author in return of an honest review on goodreads. Sadly it was an absolutely terrible book, so I did‘t want to write a review, but I still had to. However, the review I ended up writing, I now believe to be the absolute best one I have ever written, and reading this post I now realise that that may have been because reading such a bad book actually made me think about what the author could/should have done! It‘s an interesting theory and I really like this post! 😀


  3. Awesome post! I’ve sometimes noticed those storytelling gaps too. And there are a lot of awesome self-published books out there, but I like your point about not throwing out half-baked novels. IMO, it’s better not to be published at all than to be published with a book that you realize just isn’t up to par.


    • Thank you! And yeah, quite often the self-published books or the ones from the really small presses can be a lot better than the more well-known ones. The difficulty is in being able to see past your own love of your novel to tell which category it’s going to end up in!


  4. Great post! I love that you were able to learn from all those not-so-great books. It’s like you said: you can learn from any book you read. And when you’re reading books with the same problems, you notice patterns.

    Again, great post!


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