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In a previous post I wrote about how, as an early reader, we were given an activity at school where we were encouraged to read a wide variety of books. This included genres which we wouldn’t normally read. I read science fiction, which I didn’t particularly like – I found it hard to relate to this kind of world.

Through life I’ve read a variety of books – non-fiction, historical and contemporary romance, Young Adult, drama, thrillers, horrors and chick lit, but never picked up another science fiction book since school.

As writers we tune in to certain messages. We absorb everything if it’s going to make us a better writer.

5 unconventional ways to be a better writer remarks on Nicholas Sparks’s exercise in varying what his reading habits and what he learnt.

So I decided that I could learn something from reading out of genre. I didn’t want to read science fiction so decided on fantasy. I didn’t want to read just any fantasy book – it had to be good (so says Paper Fury in Why fantasy books are the best).

After some research I decided on City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (I liked the colour of the cover and the wings).

City of bones

The City of Bones, is the first book in The Mortal Instruments series, and aimed at young adults. Its set in futurist New York where Clary begins the search for her mother after she is kidnapped, and to retrieve the Mortal Cup. Clary teams up with Jace and his friends, who are shadowhunters, to help retrieve the Cup. Battles take place throughout the story.

This is a classic story of good (shadowhunters) versus evil (Valentine, Hodge, Raveners) with a touch of romance between Jace and Clary, Clary and Simon and Simon and Isabelle.

There are lots of twists and turns towards the end of the story. This book was easy to follow, had good pace and was not too weird. It used dry humour well.

There is plenty of conflict between characters (and also objects and animals) eg Clary and Jace, Clary and Simon, Simon and Jace, Simon and Isabelle, Jace/Simon/Alec.

Was there a particular type of model for fantasy writing? Yes, and City of Bones followed the fantasy tropes and world building eg humans who are able to change into animals, special fighting and protection tools eg runes, unusual ways to communicate eg being able to read the thoughts of others, potions (tisane), marks, The Grey Book, the country of Idris, protective spells, Raveners, the Law, weapons (steles, hakhram), witches, faeries, angels, vampires, werewolves, warlocks, giants, Silent Brothers (archivists) and the Iron Sisters (weapon makers).

There is a special language; humans are called mundanes or ‘mundies’, downworlders (the night children – vampires, warlocks) and parabatai (warriors who fight together). Carriages and motorbikes can fly and travel over the top of cars.

My verdict on City of Bones

I enjoyed reading City of Bones and would read the rest of the books in the series. If I had one negative point it would be that keeping the characters, language and the fantasy world straight in my head did become a challenge.

What did I learn from reading City of Bones

  • Sub plots need to be resolved (unless done deliberately because a sequel will follow).
  • It’s OK to break the rules (see my previous post on breaking the rules). City of Bones is written in third person omnivescent apart from Chapter 21, which switches to first person.
  • How inner and outer conflict are closely linked.
  • Minimal use of dialogue tags helps keeps the story moving.
  • How even best-selling authors use adverbs eg ‘delicately’, ‘angrily’ and ‘steadily’ and tell rather than show eg ‘Her lips were dry’, ‘He looked astonished’, ‘His voice was edged with amusement’ and ‘Clary was furious’.
  • Keeping the pages turning by revealing at the end of chapters (Chapters 8 and 9) something that progressed the story along and made you want to keep reading.
  • How using metaphors brings a description to life eg ‘eyes like bruises in her white face’ and ‘like a rain of silver tinsel’.
  • Good themes covered good versus evil and how easy it is to lose everything you’d thought you’d have forever.

Has reading out of genre helped me to be a better writer?

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I guess time will tell when I’ve sold a squillion books. But seriously, what I took from City of Bones was you can break the rules, even top-selling authors will tell and not show and use adverbs, how to link inner and outer conflict and use metaphors well.

Do you read out of genre? How has that helped either your reading or writing?

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