Writing Influences: J.R.R. Tolkien

One RingThis is the first in a series of posts I’ll be sharing about the authors and books that have influenced my writing style in some way.

When I was a kid, my uncle gave me a copy of The Hobbit as well as copies of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It took a couple of years for me to grow into The Lord of the Rings, although I loved The Hobbit immediately.

Hobbits seemed like my kind of people. They were peaceful, bookish, and loved even the simplest meal as long as it was hearty and filling. They weren’t particularly interested in glory or in being the centre of attention. I often daydreamed about how much fun it would be to live among them.

What I liked the most about Tolkien’s stories, though, were the details. He’d stop in the middle of a scene to describe the long history of the building the characters were visiting or exactly what the land around them  looked like.

While I’ll admit that this strategy did slow down the pacing of the plot in some places, it also gave me extremely clear mental images of the settings . Even today I can close my eyes and see exactly what those places looked, sounded, and in some cases smelled like. It’s as though I’ve visited them myself instead of read about them in books, and that’s pretty amazing considering how long its been since I’ve read those passages.

As an author, I don’t include as many details about the setting in my stories as Tolkien did. I prefer to let my audience imagine certain details for themselves, although I do try to pick a few specific things to focus on when I’m describing where my characters are. There’s definitely something to be said for taking a moment away from the main conflict of the story to show what the main characters are sensing at that exact point in time. It can be a very powerful way to draw a reader into the conflict and help them empathize with the characters they’ve been following.

This is something I do in real life as well. Some of my strongest memories of certain events exist because I took a minute to emotionally step away from what was happening and absorb all of the sights and sounds around me.  It’s amazing to see what kinds of things you’ll notice when you take the time to pay attention to everything that’s happening around you.

Have you ever tried to drink in every sight and sound around you in a particular moment?

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