I maintain that the only thing more important to improving your writing ability than actually writing is reading. There’s something to learn from every novel or non-fiction work you pick up, even if it’s that infodumping is not a great way to handle exposition, or that starting too big makes it impossible to increase drama as you go. More importantly, good fiction, the kind that makes you envious that you didn’t write it, can teach you valuable lessons even when you’re not looking for them.
I recently read through Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief for the first time. It came out ages ago, but Z is last in the alphabet and I’ve been working my way through my bookshelf from start to finish for a couple of years. It’s the kind of book you want to savor, in part because it’s beautifully written and emotional, in part because it’s intense. I had nightmares reading it, and finished the book off with ill-contained, physically painful sobs.
There’s a lot to learn from it, too, not just from a human perspective, but from a writing one. I don’t want to diminish the importance of the emotional narrative, especially given our current climate, but I don’t think that to focus on The Book Thief‘s technical success is to detract from its emotional impact. In fact, I’d go so far as to say they’re inextricable.