Origin stories aren’t just for comic book heroes: Every writer has one, whether it all started with that one book/author, person in your life, or experience. Recently on Twitter, a person a I follow asked writers what book really inspired them to write. For me, my answer came to be instantly: Gilbert Morris books, particularly his Bonnets and Bugles series.
I tore through all the books in this series while I was in fifth or sixth grade, and immediately got the itch to write books, in addition to developing an interest in Civil War history and history in general. Of course, this wasn’t the first time I had an interest in writing since my mom did took me to two Young Authors Conferences, but these books really fanned the flames to write chapter novels and made me serious about pursuing writing as a career.
Since it was a series, I learned a lot while reading all ten of them: characterization, plotting over the course of a series, action, and more. The Bonnets and Bugles series was not perfect — but then again, is there such a thing as a perfection? — but that didn’t detract too much from my enjoyment of the story as a whole. I do believe that my reading of this young adult series was the first time I practiced real critical thinking from the perspective of a writer by dissecting what worked and what didn’t.
One thing I learned is that I wanted continuity in a series, I didn’t want to forget character development and send a character back to square one like Gilbert Morris did with Tom. While I agree that Tom would have struggled with his injury, all the development he had in “The Battle of Lookout Mountain” just seemed to evaporate in following books without any real reason given for such a major setback. Now continuity is something I’m particularly observant of when I’m writing a series.
From there I went on to read several of Gilbert Morris’ other series and enjoyed them greatly, though the more I read, the more I became aware of his love of repetition, which led characters to blur between books because many were the same, just having different names slapped on them. But when you’ve written over 50 books, I imagine that will happen.
I will admit my first serious efforts at writing novels owed too much to Morris and his Bonnets and Bugles and The House of Winslow series, but it offered a valuable learning experience and had me reading a slew of fiction and nonfiction books as I fully delved into historical fiction. However, I stepped away from writing historical fiction (I do hope to return to it one day), because I found myself nitpicking my work way too much; everything had to occur in my book as it did in history, even done to the second. Fortunately, I was given a solution — a chance to create my own history while still drawing inspiration from the history I love — when my brother introduced me to “Lord of the Rings” and the fantasy genre.
After Morris, J.R.R. Tolkien’s books are perhaps the most influential to my writing (at least in sequential order of when read I read them), because they introduced me to my chosen genre. Once again, I learned from Tolkien’s writings, and they also led the way to other fantasy books from Terry Pratchett to E.E. Knight to J.K. Rowling to Anne McCaffrey (then again, she’s considered science fiction, another genre of interest for me) and more.
While reading “Lord the Rings,” I loved the scale, the realness of the world — Tolkien’s world-building skills are truly to be envied — and the plot for the most part (even though How It Should Have Ended is correct the eagles could have solved all the problems). The characters were another draw for me though at times I wished the narrative were closer to some of them, which is perhaps why I’ve selected to write the bulk of my stories in a close third person POV. Another impact was my desire to move past the black and white/good versus pure evil type of conflict, though that might have been because I was reading “To Reign in Hell” by Steven Brust, where even ol’ Lucifer is portrayed in a sympathetic light, around the same time.
I don’t doubt for a second that my path as a writer has been affected by several other authors, but not on the scale that Gilbert Morris, who got me really started on wanting to write novels, and J.R.R. Tolkien, who sparked a love of the fantasy genre, probably most impacted that path.
What about you? Was there a book that really started you on the path to becoming a writer? Have there been others that have affected your path in a particularly strong way? Share them in the comments, or write your own blog post about your origin story as a writer and share a link in my comment section; if I receive any links to origin stories, I will feature them in a separate blog post on my site.