A Challenge to Write Life-Changing Fiction (+Giveaway)

Stories have intentions.

That wonderful idea was just one of many nuggets I found myself highlighting in what has so far turned out to be my surprise read of the year—noted literary agent Donald Maass’s The Emotional Craft of Fiction.

Like many of you, I cut my teeth on Maass’s now-classic Writing the Breakout Novel, but for whatever reason never followed up with any of his other many writing guides, even though they’re all on my TBR list. Fast-forward sixteen years to when I caught Emotional Craft of Fiction as part of a Kindle sale. I started reading it about a month ago, fully expecting a smart but conventional tome of tips for drawing dimension into characters. I got that, but what I wasn’t expecting was that, non-fiction though it is, this would be one of those books with “intentions.”

The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass (affiliate link)

Just as the best of all writing advice should, the wisdom found in this book applies to so much more than just writing. If storytelling is about exploring life, then good writing advice should inevitably evoke solid life advice as well. (Which, on a side note, is what I’m excited to learn Wesley Baines, a familiar name on this site, is exploring in a forthcoming book about the importance of writers developing traits such as empathy and wisdom.) I find it no coincidence that the two great interests of my life—storytelling and personal growth—continually converge. They are, in so many ways, the same interest.

Creating Character Arcs (Amazon affiliate link)

Many people have taken the time to tell me they enjoyed my book Creating Character Arcs more for its insights into their own life changes than for that of their characters. My response is always an eager, “Right?!” Because that was totally my own experience in discovering character arcs. For me, understanding how to convincingly portray human change on the page was ultimately a journey in understanding how I change and grow.

That, in itself, should be reason enough to go out and read Maass’s book right now—because its great insights into character crafting are really just an emergent of its insights into life itself. The book (intentionally?) came to me at exactly the proper moment in my own life, as I am neck deep in working on emotional fluency.

More than that, however, I found Maass’s book and his comment about “intentional stories” to be a rallying call to writing not just authentic fiction, but the kind of fiction that both invites and encourages readers to follow the characters on Positive-Change Arcs.

I’m not even going to try to do justice to the vastness and depth of the topics Maass covers, but after finishing the book, there are two things I want to do.

1. I want to share a few of my own thoughts on why and how to take up Maass’s challenge to start (or continue) writing not just fiction, but life-changing fiction.

2. Because I want everybody everywhere to read this book, I’m giving away 10 paperbacks to random winners. Scroll to the bottom of the post to enter using the Rafflecopter widget. Winners will be selected at the end of the week. If you don’t win, please find a copy somewhere else and read it! You gotta pinky promise.

5 Starters for Writing Life-Changing Fiction

There are so many different kinds of stories—everything from heroes’ journeys to stream-of-conscious mirrors of prosaic days, from fantasies to exposés, from comedies to tragedies, from genre mashups to literary tomes. There’s something for every one of us at every moment of our lives. Every single type of story has within it the potential seed to absolutely transform at least one of its readers.

Those are the stories I want to read and watch. They don’t come along very often, but when they do, they are nuclear.

I would like to write these stories as well. (Even if the only reader who is changed is me, I’d still be pretty happy with that.) To that end, here are some ideas I’ve been mulling on, some of which coincide with those presented in Maass’s book, others which were catalyzed for me by the book.

1. Write With Honesty and Self-Awareness

Light the dark Book

Light the Dark (affiliate link)

It’s not stories that change people’s lives; it’s the truth. When stories speak truth, it’s like they’re puzzle pieces fitting into inner holes the audience didn’t even realize were there. There’s a line in Jonathan Latham’s essay in Light the Dark that talks about how when you encounter something true, it doesn’t feel like you just learned something new. Rather, it feels like you suddenly remembered something you knew all along.

The only way to write truth so powerful it gives readers that dichotomous sense of coming home to a place they’ve never before visited is by daily doing your utmost to clear away your own inner fuzziness. Cognitive dissonance, defensive egos, and repressed emotions are things we all deal with that inevitably muddy our thinking. As human beings, we bear the responsibility to try daily to do a little housecleaning. As writers, that responsibility is doubled. When asking readers to suspend disbelief, we are implicitly asking them to believe we will share with them something true. That’s a contract of trust.

2. Write With Humility and Humor

But let’s not be pompous, shall we? Every day for me is a discovery of some life-truth that astounds and excites me. I want to share every one of those truths with every single person I can. But even in the midst of my own enthusiasm (and, sometimes, overweening pride at my unprecedented cleverness), there’s a part of me that knows full well not all my truths are going to be interesting to others. Indeed, not all of my truths are really true. Today’s certainty may turn out to be tomorrow’s mirage.

If, in writing, we accept the terrible responsibility of speaking truths to our neighbors, then we also do well to acknowledge our own unsuitability for that role with more than a little self-deprecation. I want to tell the truth; I want to change your life. But, c’mon, I’m just a struggling schmo too. Very likely, that’s the greatest truth I’ll ever know or share.

3. Write Actionable Fiction

As a reader and especially a viewer, I spend an inordinate amount of time preemptively bypassing stories that seem hellbent on sending me to bed with a downer. I love incisive, hard-hitting, even dark fiction—but not if it gives me dog-breath from the bad taste in my mouth.

Maass nailed it when he wrote:

Some people may read fiction to be frightened, but they never read it to be brought down. They may wish to be challenged, but they don’t want to be crushed. They may read for amusement, but they still have heart. They do seek an emotional experience, as I’ve said, but they also want to come away feeling positive.

I think of some of my favorite stories—The Great EscapeThe Book ThiefGladiatorWuthering HeightsBlack Hawk Down, True Grit—and I’m rather surprised to realize how dark they all are, how most of them end in quantifiable tragedy. And yet… and yet. What these stories have to say about the world is anything but tragic. They tell hard truths, but in the end those truths feel triumphant.

The insight I find most poignant in Maass’s quote is that we should be striving to write actionable fiction. In the same way copywriters are taught to end with a call to action (something people can immediately respond to after hearing about the benefits of the advertised product), fiction writers should also consider what the end of a story may be encouraging readers to do in their own lives.

This does not mean ending with some blatant moral that tells readers to go out and make the world a better place. But we all know the feeling of inspiration found at the conclusion of the kind of story that might very well have just changed our lives.

This call to action is most important in stories that tell dark truths. Otherwise, the message is “roll over and die.” Stories of injustice, stories of horror, stories of death—they should be about more than just injustice, horror, and death. They should be about what we can do about these tragedies in our own lives after closing the back cover of the book.

4. Write to the Find the Best of Yourself

When you read your own stories, who do you see? It can be hard to identify the person peeking out from between the lines. But take a hard look. If the person you see has been honestly represented, then very likely she’s not a perfect person. She may be full of rage, pain, and fear. She may be downright scary. That’s okay.

But don’t leave it at that. Don’t let your fiction be nothing more than a place to vent all the hard parts of being you. See if you can’t also find the best of yourself looking back at you.

Maass again:

This may sound like I’m in favor of pandering to readers, but I’m actually appealing to the good, positive, and inspiring person called you. Don’t give me easy reading; give me the best of you. When you do, it becomes the best of me, too. Do you believe that it cheapens fiction to make it humane, heart grabbing, filled with goodness? You are not alone in that belief, but I disagree.

The best of you is not some fake version of fairy-tale perfection. The best of you is that enraged, hurting, fearful person who rose above herself and found change. That’s the person I want to know when I read your stories, because that’s the person who is going to inspire me to rise as well.

5. Write Fiction That Hopes

Sometimes it’s hard to even know for sure which stories have changed your life. Sometimes they don’t obviously change us until long after we’ve read them. But sometimes you know.

This summer, I had the opportunity to watch the extended versions of the Lord of the Rings movies on the big screen as part of a “flashback cinema” program at my local theater. Over the course of three weeks, I sat through all 11 hours and 22 minutes. As a kid, I remember the news gushing about how “life-changing” the films were. For me, this time, they were. It felt like an incredible to gift to get to experience this particular story in this particular medium at this particular time in my life. Samwise Gamgee tells us “there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for”—and, just like that, my life is changed.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), New Line Cinema.

You can change the world with stories of of truthful darkness or even despair. But I can’t help but believe, in agreement with Maass (and Sam), that it is much better instead to choose a different catalyst of change—the catalyst of hope:

You are writing to show us how things are, but aren’t you also writing to show us how things can be? Your current novel is not just a report, right? It’s a vision. It’s a gleeful celebration of what is hard, important, hopeful, and beautiful about life.


There are so many reasons to love stories. And as humans, we do—we truly do—love stories. Speaking at least for myself, I think the single greatest reason I first fell in love with stories, and continue to follow them even to this day as the guiding stars of my life, is their power to change me. If a story creates no impact in my life, then I find I am invariably disappointed on some level. I want to be changed. I want every day to be a transformation. That is why I read, and that is why I write.

And that is why I want you to read Donald Maass’s inspiring challenge to write stories of depth and meaning. Be sure to enter the giveaway below. I leave you with a final quote:

Novels that are truly grand, generous, and confident do not come along very often, but why can’t such novels be yours every time?

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What’s a story that changed your life? How has it inspired you to want to write life-changing fiction? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Fantastic, as usual!! Whether or not I win the giveaway, I will read this one.

    A life-changing story? Aren’t they all? *waxes poetic about the stories we tell ourselves*

    But if I had to pick one, despite its melodrama, I would go with The Shadow of the Wind. It came to me when I needed it and taught me a lot about the personal meaning of books, beautifully so.

  2. Ooooh, this sounds like a really great book! I entered, but if I don’t win I’m totally putting it on the list for my next ‘book run’.

    The list of books that changed my life is way too long. Most recently, I picked up The Book Thief. I wonder if there’s anyone who’s read that book who /wasn’t/ changed by it. It’s so incredibly powerful.
    I think one of the beautiful things about that story is it isn’t just a problem with an antidote— a lot of tragedies (and other literary genres, honestly) pose some really high, lofty problem and then tie it off with a really high, lofty antidote. The Book Thief could have tried to make a grand statement about resisting evil by devoting your life to the service of good and dying a martyr in that cause. One /could/ make the case that that is the point of the story, and on a broader plane maybe it is. But Liesel’s story is just about holding on to the small good things and doing with them what she could. ‘Once there was a strange small man… but there was a wordshaker too.’
    It’s actionable, as you said. We leave the story inspired to do what she did because we know we can. Sometimes saving the world does require high and lofty sacrifices of devotion, but most often it simply requires doing what you can to save your part of it.

    I… need to read that again. XD

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Totally agree. When I think of life-changing fiction, that is always one of the first to jump to mind.

  3. I often return to The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, whose characters need to find inner strength to make hard choices and decide whom they want to be in their lives. I like the following reminder from one character to another to be proactive and brave:

    “I think you could do something good. I think you have talent, possibly a lot of it, and I don’t say that lightly. I want you to try. I can see it’s what you love. But I can’t fight for you. You have to fight for yourself….You’ve got to take up some space, girl.”

    (Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood, p. 130, quoted at https://eduscapes.com/sessions/survive/index.htm)

  4. A lot of people may not agree with the book as being ”groundbreaking” or on the ”Top 100 Greatest Books of All Time,” but ”Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline was the book that changed my life over the last several years since it’s release.

    I didn’t read regular books for years. In fact, I found them boring, and every time any of us were forced to read in school, I struggled to read it or avoided it completely, causing a decline in grades.

    A few years ago, I received Cline’s book through one of those monthly ”blind pack” variety boxes and decided, ”Hell. I’ll give it ago. What’s it going to hurt? And, if I get bored, I’ll go back to my stack of Marvel and DC Comics.”

    Oh. My. God. The story took me on an adventure through something I was and still interested in (virtual reality), and vomited every late 70s to 80s pop culture references into 300+ pages of finding out what the key to the entire story was: escapism and finding out what truly matters most…

    Life. Real life.

    I was unable to put the book down when I started it. It took me a few months to read (I’m a slow reader. Shut up.), but I loved the wild ride.

    From that day forward, I mostly stopped watching TV. I saw an occasional movie (yes, one of them was that one), and read tons of books. I became an ARC reader for numerous authors and publishers, until I burnt myself out. All the stories became the same and no one was trying anything different. In fact, a lot of the books I was reading owe a lot to RP1.

    If you are still reading this, I have started reading again. I just received an Advance Readers Copy of ”Full Throttle,” by Joe Hill the other day and will start reading it today. And, who knows? I may pick up my copy of Cline’s book and reread it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      In my experience, the books that are most profound in one’s life aren’t always the books we expect. I’ve been changed by many a “silly” little story, or sometimes just by one scene or one line in a story that otherwise might have been forgettable.

  5. The book by Donald Maase sounds amazing. I really loved (and learned a lot from) his Breakout Novel book and workbook, though I think that back when I tried to blog about my thoughts on it, I came across as really critical.

    As for books that gave me that -I kind of call it a shock of recognition. It’s a sense that you’ve just heard something you’ve always known and it pulls a string in your chest, like a harp string only I suppose it’s more of a heart string, that sends a shock vibrating all through you. Anyway, they are somewhat rare, but the most resent was `Moonblood’ by Anne Elizabeth Stengl. It’s the third book in her `Tales of Goldstone Woods’ series, and a major character, who has a good heart but is too much of a people pleaser, finally manages to admit that he can’t do the right thing in his own strength. It was a beautiful picture of God’s love that had me in tears.

  6. Will be putting this on my Christmas wishlist, if I don’t win. :0) I love books and posts like this which inspire me to reach for excellence. Thank you!

  7. “The best of you is that enraged, hurting, fearful person who rose above herself and found change.”

    Donald Maas isn’t the only one who can inspire.

  8. Downloaded the book already (will leave the giveaways for those of lesser means than I).

    Stories that have changed my life….

    You know what? Road Runner cartoons.

    May we all one day be as certain of our life goals as Wile E. Coyote, and as wildly creative and doggedly perseverant in pursuing them.

  9. Rebekah Coy says

    Just found your blog and podcast and instantly loved it. You speak to me as though you know what I’ve been needing to learn! Thank you!

    Life-changing books of truth… Well I know of one that I read when I was younger called “Lucas” by Kevin Brooks. It was tragic and honest but also left you feeling the catalyst of change.

  10. I had never heard of Writing the Breakout Novel, so thank you for adding that to my list! Thanks to my partner, I’m learning more about self-awareness, and think that will only help my writing.

  11. I maybe got this book during the same sale you did. My writing is very emotional (dark but filled with love and hope) and I greatly appreciated his comments about how it’s okay to be explicit with describing emotions. I guess it hasn’t changed my style so much as just encouraging me that it’s ok to do. And the readers have made positive comments about it. (I get so anxious about my writing that it helps to cling to any small indication that I’m on the right track.)

  12. Writing a life-changing story has been my not-so-secret goal for each of my books. They might look like romances on the surface, but underneath, they are my ways of opening minds and healing hearts.

  13. One of the best books that I have ever read was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I read it while I was in high school and it spoke to me about following my dreams and the importance of seeking guidance from within. As an adult now, the book continues to speak to me as I try to rediscover my passions and chase my dreams with renewed vigor. My favorite quote from the book has become a bit of a mantra for myself at this time. “People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they love.”- Paulo Coelho.

  14. Heather Schick says

    I follow you not just because I enjoy your books, webpage, and podcasts, but because you are so forthcoming about your personal processes and experiences. I appreciate your point of view and recommendations. I have not read Mr. Maas’ work before, but I will in the very near future. Thank you for the work you do and creative genius you are!

  15. Mike Hickman says

    I like the comment above about the shock of recognition – that’s definitely what I’m looking for when reading. I listened to an agent on Saturday saying that he has never met, nor would he expect to meet, a character like Eleanor Oliphant (from Gail Honeyman’s successful novel). Strange, I thought, because I’ve met many people like her and, while I’m not exactly like her (the whole not being female thing for a start…) I recognised much in her loneliness that chimes with my own existence and others I have met… I don’t doubt that the agent is sincere in what he says, and that book isn’t perhaps for him (or maybe he’s bristling at its success!) but the shock of recognition is there in that one right from the very start – as is the idea that things can be better for her, which is why I read to the end, and why I’d recommend it to anyone reading this blog. This is very much a story of darkness filled with love and hope, and it’s worth considering, if nothing else, as an example of how both can exist at one and the same time (perhaps a definition of life itself?)

  16. Love this article so much. A book that changed my life was The Hunger Games. It was the first time I related to a protagonist – I felt seen 🙂

  17. Jane Eyre changed my life, and has stayed with me over the past two decades since I first read it (I’ve reread it umpteen times since). I’ve often found myself thinking about the moral/spiritual choices she made in the face of such deep emotional testing, and I compare my own journey and reactions to hers.

  18. Ruth Molenaar says

    I have found several types of books give me that feeling, that frisson of recognition of truth. Mists of Avalon was one for me. Tailchaser’s song was another

  19. Donald Maas is always an inspiration. Would definitely put this in my Wish List

  20. I know that I am a very emotional person, and often worry that I put too much of it into my writing. I would love to have this book to read the writer’s take on it.

    A book that changed my life is ‘One True Thing’ by Anna Quindlen. It shone a great light on the dynamics of family, the illusions under which we labour to create a life, and the vision to be achieved by being a little less self-absorbed. Beautifully written, it got right to the core of me.

  21. I’m always grateful when an author sings praises about a craft book. There are so many out there and sadly, I’ve gone through a few that weren’t very helpful. Maas’s is officially on my list though!

  22. Amy L Simon says

    This is so where I’m at! I’ll read the book whether I win or not. Lots of book shave changed me… Jan Karon’s Mitford series reminds me of the importance of people and our relationships with them. The Star Wars movie where Aniken turns to the dark side is such a powerful lesson of what happens when we allow our fears to rule us instead of trusting our future to God. That really spoke to me. Thanks for your blog!

  23. I also have books that I read during seasons of life that totally changed me. Today, I was just thinking of the way Agatha Christie novels “saved” me during cancer treatment. Thanks for the post and for the giveaway. Like others have said, this is a book I want to read whether I win or not. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  24. trader mare says

    A book that changed my life … probably To Kill a Mockingbird which I read at a very early age…

  25. Reading the comments up above make me jealous. They already found a story even stories that change their life. How lucky they are!
    I still struggle with myself about what book that should I bring to my home when I between bookshelf of library ot bookstore…
    I haven’t found any inspired fiction story.

  26. I am an only child raised by a single parent and I read voraciously as a kid, trying to understand the world. Because of this, my physical family may have been small, but my book family is vast, with hundreds and hundreds of aunties and uncles who’ve raised me through their writing, teaching me how to be a decent human being. One book in particular stands out to me, a coming of age fantasy that I read as a teen: Songs of Earth and Power by Greg Bear. This is where I learned about how some people use others to cast off their own darkness to make themselves appear clean. In the book it’s a literal casting off, but in real life it taught me to look not to just what people say, but what they do–how their actions are more telling than their words. As a girl growing up with a lot of love, I didn’t always know about the dark, so books taught me safely about the shadow side of life and how to face it or avoid it if I could.

  27. I love your writing posts! They have helped me so much as an author!! So thank you! 🙂 A story that has forever transformed my life I think would have to be the Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia.

  28. Great post about what looks like a great book (with a beautiful cover too)!

    A book that changed my life has to be the American Girl Doll books. I was not good at reading – I was slow and I didn’t even like it – until the 1st grade when I read those little books. Somehow I got faster and better at actually reading, and from there I started devouring every book I could get my hands on. I don’t remember much of the plot, but I do remember huddling next to my bedside lamp reading late into the night for the first time in my life. After those books, I was obsessed!

  29. I needed to ‘hear’ this today. I’ve been struggling through a rewrite, not because the story is no good, but because the story is personal and hard. It requires me to leave a lot on the page, more than my other books. But it does have a wonderful message of hope and self acceptance that I only pray will resinate with readers.

  30. Your recommendation is all I need. I’m now dying to read this!

    The first one that came to mind is Pride and Prejudice. I read it early on in my marriage, and the way Darcy and Lizzy strengthen each other really stuck with me as we worked through early conflict.

  31. Sounds like an amazing book. His books have always been inspiring.
    A book that I read many years ago still informs my faith – In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden

  32. Sounds like a great book! I’ve not read his work before I’ll have a look 🙂
    As for books that changed my life, one of the first was The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe – I remember having that read to me when I was little and it totally opened the world of fantasy for me.

  33. I love this post! It’s so beautiful and inspiring! ❤️ I’ve been eyeing The Emotional Craft of Fiction for awhile but never got around to buying it…now I really, really want to read it. 😀

  34. Stories that changed my life…WOW, that’s a huge question, haha. The Lord of the Rings is the most obvious choice–I read them when I was 11 and got to see The Return of the King in theaters the same year. But “Man of Steel” got me into superhero films, many of which have inspired, encouraged, and emboldened me both in my writing and in my everyday life. And the original “Star Trek” show + the newer movies had a huge influence on my novel, which I’m getting ready to publish!

  35. Sharyn Cerda says

    Your blogs are always so clear, concise, and especially inspirational to those of us struggling through the first draft of that elusive first novel. This post is no exception. Brilliantly done.

  36. I read CS Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet when I was 10. Again when I was 20. Then about once per decade thereafter. I’m 77. His description of the universe stuck.

  37. Rebecca Woodie says

    This book sounds very powerful. I try to have my stories resound like this but I’m not always successful.

    I fully agree on the point of redemption in stories. Yes, dark endings are a part of life, but we don’t need to glorify them.

    Also, I must be the only person on the planet who hated wuthering heights because I did not interpret the ending as hope but as just another person dragged into this drama cycle. I wonder if my opinion would change if I read it again now that I’m older.

    • Rebecca Woodie says

      For the book that really changed my life, I have a few…
      Lord of the rings, the old man and the Sea, and so many more…

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      My relationship with Wuthering Heights has been a slow evolution. It took a me a couple reads to fully appreciate it.

  38. This was beautiful! I especially love this quote:

    “When you encounter something true, it doesn’t feel like you just learned something new. Rather, it feels like you suddenly remembered something you knew all along.”

  39. Some examples of life-changing fiction for me would be the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon and Lori Benton’s Pathfinders series. I was a romance reader for years, and I still like a good love story, but I found myself as I got older to be more interested in what happens AFTER the HEA. How do people stay married and still love each other for 60+ years? That’s the question I want to answer in my writing, if only for myself. 😂

  40. Ah, I just realized that I was supposed to mention a story that changed my life 🙂

    Death by Living, by ND Wilson, is the book that has most changed/shaped the way I view life, death, humanity, duty, family, culture, and eternity. It is profoundly beautiful narrative nonfiction, intertwined with stories of the author’s life. I highly recommend it!

  41. trader mare says

    So many good take aways in this article! Thank you. Story that changed my life? Probably To Kill A Mockingbird, read at a very early age.

  42. I think the story that has changed my life was To Kill a Mockingbird, It showed me how to have several disparate pieces of a puzzle and how to bring them together in a heartfelt, perfect finale.

  43. Another book to be added to my growing “books on writing” TBR pile. I’ve decided that I’m making monday a reading day from now to the end of the year to make a better dent in all the books I’ve accumulated and am trying to read simultaneously. (Note: the latter method is not working.)

    Two books that I always come back to are A Prayer for Owen Meany and The Alchemist.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Ah, yes, A Prayer for Owen Meany. I haven’t thought of that one in a while, but it was definitely impactful.

  44. Darryl Le Roux says

    This is what the craft should be.

    We should, as writers, try and stir the human soul. To try and place an emotional connection on reader to story to edify their lives in some manner.

    While I am all for a good plot driven novel about the undead, if that is all we surround ourselves with, there will be no growth in our souls. We should dive deep into stories that matter. Stories that shape us as people, and that help us strive for more.

  45. Daniel Tweddell says

    The screen went black and my heart stopped. Credits rolled by in a blur. I don’t remember if I cried. My life was a hamster wheel where my dreams were always just out of reach. Every passing day the realization was clearer: I would never reach them. Groundhog day was a sword to the heart. But buried in the strange story was also the answer. Living your life to get everything you can only makes you want to die. Living it to give everything you can fills it with excitement – and something else. In the end of the story, his choices changed his heart, which changed his life, which made his dreams come true. I look back so many years later and realize, so did mine.

  46. Maass has such a way with nailing what needs to be done and you’ve given some great concrete ways to implement his suggestions. Great blog.

  47. What about entire genres? There are tropes that differentiate Cosmic (or Lovecraftian) Horror from other horror, but aren’t overt or event present in all the individual stories that are considered to be examples of the sub-genre. I had a profound, almost spiritual, experience being reminded of the unknown/unknowable in the world around us and reading about how exposure to this unknowable-ness deeply challenges or changes people.

  48. Books that changed my life :
    + The Little Prince, by Saint-Exupéry, for it’s easy way of sharing the joys and hurts of love and friendship and the way I see the child in me.

    + The Man Who Was Thursday, by Chesterton, for it created worlds inside me. It taught me to tap into my imagination more and be free to see God everywhere, in high and low. And it also helped me dream of an important scene of a novel idea I had for years, that didn’t have any plot yet.

    + Unfinished Portrait, by Mary Wastmacott (aka Agatha Christie) taught me that it’s ok to write from my deep personal fears and traumas. It also gave me a renewed vision of all the other AC mysteries…

    Thank you for the opportunity to learn and win life-changing insights!

  49. Book that changed my life? Lots of them. Most recently The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo & the subsequent 5 novels were a revelation: an Aspy heroine can actually have an impact on the world. It’s okay that most people won’t understand me; I’m still part of society, one way or another.
    But you see why I need this book! I approach life more through logic than emotion, though of course no one is completely one or the other.

  50. Thank you so much for this post, Miss Weiland!

    I’ve been wanting to become a master writer for a couple of years now, and this piece is massively important to my growth. A while back, I was watching a podcast/livestream with some of my favorite commentators. One of them was a moviemaker. He said something I’ll never forget, “Movies any more (or in my case stories) don’t transcend.” For months I’ve tried to figure out what it is, so that my works aren’t half-hearted attempts. It is truth! Good stories can have the best action, an interesting plot, and sympathetic/rounded characters; but if it doesn’t point to the truth, then it will remain only a good story. Legendary stories are able to transcend with the power of the truth… I think I just had my realization in my own character arc!

    Thanks again, you answered a question that I could not answer!

  51. Ender’s Game. Made me fall in love with sci fi, especially sci fi with meaning.

  52. You have reminded me that I need to go back to my bookshelves and read some of my Maas!

  53. Judy Caywood says

    I’m so happy a friend pointed me to you. Thank you for the free books and for your newsletters and blogs that have light, life and wide insight. You are relatable. I come away feeling like I have learned many new things important to writing and captivating others.

  54. I have 2 from childhood – The Forgotten Beasts of Eld and The Last Unicorn – both for the poetry of their words but also the magic within them – and the visions of these writers (letting me secretly hope that someone I could write my visions too). They helped me know life can be good and magical even as we go through the tough parts.

  55. Dee Henderson’s books about the O’Malleys. They were seven orphans who found a family with each other. I wanted that so much and these books–there are seven total–made me realize that I can have the family I’ve dreamed of and they do not have to be blood related.

  56. Bit of a dorky example, as it is FAR from high literature, but the show Sword Art Online had a surprisingly large impact on me when I first watched it.

    In the story, for those who don’t know, several thousand people are trapped inside a virtual world. In order to escape, the protagonists must clear all 100 floors of the digital castle they are forced to live in. After a year or so of this, however, many – if not most – people start settling in and resigning themselves to the idea that “this is just life now.”

    I was feeling much the same about certain things in my life at that time, and the actions of the characters in that third act helped me to keep pushing and dig myself out of things, even though I felt tired.

    Having rewatched it a few times, and being more familiar with the author’s other work, I now feel that a lot of the story’s “power” was either accidental or based on my personal circumstances, but I still have a pretty big soft spot for it. It also feel that it is a perfect example of how sometimes it’s not about a story being perfect, but merely the right story for the right person at the right time.

  57. Lisa Ingelse says

    Thank you for this! — I appreciate your perspective and insight…especially of writing truth and the weight of responsibility we carry as writers. I look forward to reading more of your books, as well as the Donald Maass and Jonathan Latham book’s you recommend.

  58. Selina Cajolais says

    So many. So here are my top three:

    Gone with the Wind taught me that as long as I have the ones I love and a bit of land, I will never go without. It also taught me there is a big difference between what one wants and what one needs. What one needs is really very little.

    Of Mice and Men taught me to be kind. It taught me to understand that we don’t know what is going on in the lives (or minds) of others, and often, even though someone’s actions may seem odd or wrong, what they really need is kindness and love, not judgement.

    The Mermaid Chair led to my life changing epiphany. After reading this, at age 40, I rather excitedly said to my daughter, “I know what I want to be when I grow up!” She looked at me quizzically. “I want to be a writer,” I said. “I’ve always loved writing. Growing up, teachers and friends often told me I should be a writer. I didn’t, because you can’t make a living as a writer. But maybe I’m not living if I’m not writing.” And I started writing again.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I was blown away by Gone With the Wind. Totally didn’t expect it to live up to its own hype. But it outdid even that.

  59. Heather Bennett says

    I stole my sister’s book because she hated reading and didn’t want to read it. It was ‘The Outsiders’ by S.E. Hinton. I was in 6th grade and I read the entire thing in one sitting. By the time I got to one of the crucial deaths, the entire house was asleep, it was midnight, and I basically cried myself to sleep. In the morning, I told my sister all about the book, helped fill in the pieces she needed to answer for her homework assignment – and have gone on to read it at least 23 more times. It’s like comfort food to me, now. Man, I love that book still!

  60. Thanks for this inspiration! I’m coming back to my WIP after 18 months having been sidelined by traumatic life events. I’m eager to return to it with this perspective!

  61. Cujo…the first Stephen King book I read. The idea of the mundane being terrifying stuck!

  62. Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith. The first book I ever finished. It finally introduced me to reading.

  63. For me Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon changed my world view. I realized that there was a possibility that history ( and not just Arthurian) seriously underrepresented “her story.” I gained a great deal of clarity on patriarchy’s influence on society and how much I was prepared to accept it in my life and the lives of my daughters.
    Before that there was the movie Easy Rider, that showed me the violence that intolerance could manifest.
    There was also Zenna Henderson’s The People books. Stories of pain, loss and intolerance, but also of magic and miracles.

  64. I can’t wait to read this title. I am eagerly rushing to amazon to check out Mass’s other titles. Oh! And thanks for the Freebie Dreamlander title!

  65. Contest entered, but I pinky promise to read regardless.

    As a kid, I loved Superman. Still do to this day. There’s something inherently hopeful about the notion of the most powerful being on the planet using his abilities to do good for the simple reason that it’s the right thing to do. No tragic back story. No ghost in his past. Just loving parents who taught him right from wrong and to look out for their fellow man.

    That has always spoken to me, and I think this post explains why. It’s fiction that hopes. Sure, there’s challenges to writing a character like that and keeping them interesting. But when done well, it offers us an example of how we can strive to be our best self.

    I certainly think there’s value in that, and am looking forward to hearing all Maass has to say on it.

  66. At the Back of the North Wind.

  67. I’ve never read any of Maas’ books. Think now I should. This post reminded me of Simon Sinek’s Find Your Why. When you find your why you can gain more depth and meaning in your life. Find inspiration in life.

  68. A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki, motivated me to study Buddhism in earnest. Because of this book, I now want to share mindfulness tools and therapeutic writing & drawing techniques with those suffering from the trauma of invasive cancer. Ozeki’s masterpiece inspires me to be a better writer and a better person.

  69. TL Coleman says

    I always enjoy your blog, emails, Facebook posts. Thanks for sharing from real places in your life and writing journey.

    There are many books and stories that have been life-changing for me – some in tiny but important ways and some in huge, obvious ways. The scriptures are life changing for me, over and over again. Even the same stories within the scriptures, appearing in a different light of life circumstances can render aha moments. And they make me want to write life changing stories as well.

    Earlier this year I read The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni. At first I was put off by the title, but once I read the book that all changed. I want to write stories like that – stories that resonate with a lot of us but for different reasons -universal human reasons. I cried and I laughed and I hoped. It was a really good story.

    God bless you in your writing and endeavors.

  70. For years I never wanted to read To Kill A Mockingbird. But, having to do so in order to teach it to a class I was assigned to teach, I reluctantly started reading it. After a couple of chapters, I could not put it down and finished it in one night. It brought back memories of things we did as kids and I was able to relate to my students some similar experiences. I am so happy that I finally read the book.

  71. All of Fredrik Backman’s books. But especially, My Grandmother Sends her Regards and Britt-marie was Here.

  72. I saw Donald Maas at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. Inspiring and thought provoking. My earliest life changer: Siddartha…oh, nope…it was Little Women.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yeah, I read Little Women and Anne of Green Gables so often as a kid that they feel like part of my DNA.

      • Abigail Sarah says

        Yesssss. Speaking of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s books, did you ever read “The Story Girl”? As someone who loved stories and words that one stuck with me even more than Anne. I read it and the sequel so many times they’re like home. (And now I’m years older than the 14-year-old main character whom I always aspired to, aggh…)

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          I did. I went through a kick in my mid-teens where I read everything Montgomery wrote. Nothing quite matches Anne, but I really liked Emily of New Moon as well–and related to her more, in some ways.

  73. You have the best writers site / blog etc. ever. It’s the only one I stay subscribed too.

    Most of my memories involve a book. It’s amazing how strong a connection a good book can have with a memory. I hate the part when you have to put the book down or you finish it.

  74. A story that changed my life is Boy 21 by Matthew Quick. Like everyone else who reads this excellent blog of yours, I’ve been a reader since I was a kid. I’ve got loads of favorite books (depending on the week you ask, my answer will change) but I’ve never had an absolute favorite author until I discovered Matthew Quick. I’ve read all eight of his novels but when I finished Boy 21, which is one of his YA novels, I decided that I needed to write a novel of my own. In the back of my head I’ve always wanted to but I didn’t go to college and haven’t taken any formal writing courses so I never had the confidence. Something about the way Quick’s work speaks to me so deeply gave me the confidence to try it myself. I’m now about 30,000 words into my first draft and I’m not looking back! Thank you for all of your posts and books, I’ve got Structuring Your Novel and Outlining Your novel in the drawer of my writing desk always there for me when I get stuck!

  75. I attempt to write stories to change the world one person at a time. If all we consume is that life is hopeless then we might as well give up, but living takes so much more grit.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      A Bruce Lee quote I ran onto again today seems appropriate: “Do not wish for an easy life. Wish for the strength to endure a difficult one.”

  76. A book that changed my life was A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. I read it in grade six and it was the first book that really showed me other children’s experiences could be the same as mine. And I’ve read Donald Maas’ earlier works but not this book, so please enter me in the drawing. Thank you for your generosity!

  77. So many books 🙂 One of the earliest books I remember having a big impact was The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. Beyond being a fun and funny story, it had deeper themes touching on whether Gen trusted the gods and that they knew best. It wasn’t overt, it wasn’t preachy, but man a few lines here and there made all the difference in making me think.

  78. Safely Home by Randy Alcorn changed my vision of what heaven is/was/could be/would be and made a lasting impression on my soul. I’ve read it several times and recommended it more than several. I’m going to get this book by Maass, as my current WIP needs an injection of … several things. Glad it’s just the rough draft and able to handle the injections! Thank you for bringing this book to our attention.

  79. April Taylor says

    I was astounded by Leo Marks “Between Silk and Cyanide”, a non-fiction book by one of the SOE code makers of WW2 in the UK. The sheer depth of courage shown, especially by the female operatives who frequently realised they were going to their deaths but still went, contrasting with the stupid, blinkered top brass who sat in their safe offices in London playing politics instead of winning the war. It completely changed my view of not just powerful people and how self-serving they are when others are risking their lives for the common good, but also how valid my views and opinions are against theirs.

  80. I remember reading Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, sitting up against my wicker headboard late into the night, with tears just flowing. (You know what part I’m talking about.) Transformative.

  81. Christine Moore says

    When I was a preteen/early teen, the Trixie Belden mystery series introduced me to a role model character who approached life with enthusiasm, love for family and friends, and the courage to fix whatever wrongs she could. The stories primed my personality for a lifetime of optimism, problem-solving, and persistence.

    More significantly, Trixie Belden set me up to fully embrace the life-changing story I encountered at the end of high school, when *The Lord of the Rings* gripped my heart and opened my spirit to truth, possibilities, and hope.

    Years later, I tried to nail down exactly why I write, and it all boiled down to this: I want my stories to make readers feel what I felt when I first read *The Lord of the Rings.*

    And though there are likely many, many others whose lives were impacted by reading LOTR, this only serves to remind me that the nerve Tolkien stepped on was a nerve common to many readers. And isn’t that a lovely notion when thinking about one’s target audience?

  82. Thank you for this inspirational post, and a reminder to read more from Donald Maass. My favorite of his many books on craft is his ‘Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook’ which I return to over and over again with each new story I write. His workbook questions inspire me to dig deep into my story’s soul and characters’ inner conflicts and motivations.

  83. Eileen Faulkner says

    From my childhood, Black Beauty, Tarka the Otther, a little later, Watership Down, As an adult, Gone with the Wind, Jane Ayre and Stephen King’s Carrie. Latterly, Non-fiction, Painting Watercolours on Canvas, Abstract nature and Abstract Acrylics. These three are intended to inspire me to loosen up with my art as I am usually a very detailed painter of animals, birds and flowers.

  84. East of Eden. I re read it every 5 or 10 years because there’s something new each time for me.

  85. I was around 12 or 13 and I read The Door Within trilogy by Wayne Thomas Batson. I think thats that series that most inspired and changed my life. Being a military kid, I understood how the main character felt after moving and he was a lot like me in other ways. We both liked art, we’d both grown up feeling rather different from the people around us and often times lonely and abandoned by the people we called best friend. It was what reminded me of several things… One, that even things that seem to wreck our life can be used for things that change our life for something greater. Two, I’m never alone. And three, I didn’t need to fit in- it was alright to be different and use what was different to make a difference and be a hero. I’ve gone on to read the series many times- it’ll be 10 times by the end of this year, I’m currently reading it to my 9 year old brother.

  86. Abigail Lyman says

    Hmm, my childhood was so full of stories… most of them I’d be rather unhealthily obsessed with, try to make myself into the main character, and give up in frustration after a couple months of intense joy and longing. The main example of that is “The Story Girl” and its sequel “The Golden Road”, two little-known books by Lucy Maud Montgomery to which I’m now fiercely attached. I read them probably 4 or 5 times over the course of a couple very chaotic years in my childhood.
    But as far as books that have actually changed me permanently… probably the Bible is the only one – which of course isn’t a novel but, since it by definition is the truth that changes our lives, is I suppose the epitome of and pattern and for all of the life-changing truth-telling fiction out there.
    And then stories that remind me God’s truth – I’ve had plenty of late night soul-searching spurred by one or another of Isabella Alden’s novels (she’s a tragically unknown 1800s writer of Christian fiction, pretty much only available on Kindle these days, and though her books fall prey to some of the Victorian sentimentalist stuff they’re worlds better than most of the contemporary Christian fiction I’ve found). And then the Wingfeather series, even though I was older than all of the main characters by the time I read it, had so much symbolism and humor and selflessness and wonderful characters and just plain great writing… I stayed up to all hours of the night finishing that one too, and sobbed and sobbed at the end and was all kinds of inspired (until my conscience got after me because he ironically enough uses the word ‘magic’ for the Maker’s power. Still a heartbreakingly truthful and lovely series.)
    And of course your novels always resonate because they’re the embodiment of “humane, heart grabbing, filled with goodness” and your characters are so, just good. What’s that quote from Dreamlander… “There was one other thing Chris Redston was. He was kind.” (my hearttt) At the very least they always remind me how complacent and unheroic I am compared to the kind of person one writes stories about, and like Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl says (not fiction but another eye-opening book, we’re going through the videos in class this year), this world is God’s story.

  87. I think this really boiled all that I’ve learned about writing on my own and from other people (and by “other people” I mean mostly you, Katie, so thank you!! :). One story that has changed me recently is N.D. Wilson’s 100 Cupboards trilogy. It gave me a new perspective on what it means to be a hero and taught me a lot about the power of strong prose.

  88. The Hobbit. A friend gave it to me for my ninth birthday and it completely changed the types of books I read. I dove head first into so much fantasy after that and never looked back!

  89. Nancy S. Thompson says

    Thanks for all your advice. Ii routinely copy to a document to keep on hand while writing.

  90. Heather Popish says

    When I was a teen, I stumbled on a copy of “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” by Judy Blume at a used book sale. I read it more times than I can count. I still own that copy to hopefully pass on to my kids when they’re older! It really resonated with me at the time.

  91. Fantastic post as always!!! This book sounds great. 🙂


  92. Louis Schlesinger says

    The “what book changed my life?” question was intimidating until I let go and the memory of a book I read decades ago by Jack London crystallized. It’s an obscure volume from the early 20th Century called The Star Rover, narrated in First Person POV by a condemned inmate at San Quentin. Our storyteller survives the deprivation of solitary confinement by liberating his mind in a manner that reminds me of Transcendental Meditation. When finally facing his executioner, his last words have resonated with me to this day: “Gentlemen, I hope to live to see the day when capital punishment is abolished.”

  93. I have a lot of writing “mentors,” living or dead. But it was reading an interview with the creators of the Valerian & Laureline series that crystallized my storytelling ethos. I discovered V&L via its anime adaptation on CrunchyRoll. The anime is fun, and its something kids of all ages could watch.

    However, when I looked up the series, I found out what the creators of those characters intended for them to be like. Valerian is supposed to be an anti-hero, in the original sense, where an anti-hero is cowardly and passive. Or, “banal” as the creators said. The creators were against the proactive, fearless heroism common to American comic book heroes, and Valerian therefore could not have such traits. And, Laureline’s greatness was supposed to be based on Valerian’s lack of greatness.

    This is horrible. I realized in that moment what I understand to be the rules for a protagonist / hero. One is that the protagonist’s greatness CANNOT be dependent on other characters being stupid, incompetent, etc. The protagonist can either stand toe to toe, eye to eye with an equal, or she’s not that great. The quickest clue you have a Mary Sue / Marty Stu is that all of their opponents are stupid and incompetent, if not cartoonishly evil.

    AND — more importantly — I firmly believe that “subverting” values such as heroism is an utterly maladaptive practice, in real life or storytelling. In science, “maladaptive” means a trait that is destructive to the people or person who possesses it. The trait could be genetic, social, or personal, but extinction is the extreme outcome. In storytelling, it means someone is going to throw your book against the wall.

    I like living in a society where random people will stop and help you when they see you have car trouble, or who will run into burning buildings to save a stranger. The underlying traits behind those actions don’t generate in a vacuum. It’s not “a given” that people will possess them. What’s the saying about every generation being invaded by barbarian hordes, a.k.a “children”? You have to teach those values again and again, for every generation. If a story celebrates or promotes anti-heroism, it’s maladaptive. And ironically — since the tellers of such tales believe they’re profound and groundbreaking — the story will also be banal and childish.

    When a writer decides to deliberately celebrate an anti-heroic character, particularly a series character, I believe the character will start off “banal” and descend from there. Eventually, Valerian’s writers made that same discovery, for he’d become an utter moron in the comics. They had to “fix” him (the anime series is based on the comic arc that came after their epiphany). I don’t think they quite understood where they went wrong, since they said it was okay for Valerian to be fixed, now that Laureline’s “place” is assured. Sigh.

    To be sure, I also like those “dark and gritty” stories like “True Grit” and “The Great Escape.” They’re examples of Flannery O’Connor’s idea that a satisfying ending does not necessarily equal a happy ending. But, it matters what the “truth” is that powers those stories. The darkness of a story such as the “Great Escape” is earned, rather than the product of the dimwitted belief that “nihilistic = profound.”

  94. Dominique Turner says

    To Kill a Mockingbird. I read it six times as a teenager. The opening of Scout’s eyes to her own prejudices as well as the ones Atticus was fighting around her and the way things are seem through the eyes of a child…i need to reread this! I think being confronted with our own prejudices and then having the author show some grace to those we are prejudiced against is one reason I want to write.

  95. Thank you for this post. So many books to consider…my first Christian sci fi was The Word Reclaimed by Steve Rzasa. As a writer, I wanted to know how to merge faith and speculative fiction. Reading it lifted my spirit and gave me hope it was possible.

  96. Abigail (Sarah) Lyman says

    Oh, and I forgot one that actually did affect my entire worldview: anyone else read Peter Pan at the ripe age of 7 or so and dread growing up forever after? I remember crying because I outgrew my nightgown once when I was maybe 8 years old, lol. I blame (or credit?) that book for my never going through the “I want to grow up and be a teenager/adult!” stage of hopeful optimism like most kids (who don’t know how much they have and who will forever after look back with wistful heartache at the golden blur of their childhood, as I was lectured by J.M. Barrie). In fact growing up has had its upsides, like being able to appreciate a clean house and good weather and good writing and not having an emotional meltdown over one’s cup being the wrong color, haha. (Oh my goodness, there is just *no* way to write laughter without it looking passive-agressive or terribly awkward.) So not quite a truth! and thanks to Peter Pan I went into growing up very much prepared to be disappointed, like a true optimistic pessimist… or pessimistic optimist.. or.. anyway. I too should get back to writing all these essays I have due.

  97. Aya Taliba Ayodike says

    It’s hard to pick only one story that changed my life cause my interaction with books and words has been from early childhood. I remember identifying with all the girl heroines like Josephine March of Little Women, and using them as yardsticks of my own growth. I remember the profound sorrow of witnessing Dorothea’s pain in Middlemarch. All inspiring stories touch a chord somewhere in my own story and help me like the Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress to shoulder my worries, and climb a step higher. But if I am forced to choose, I would say The Waves. Virginia Woolf’s novel made me look at what it is to be human in a brand new way, look with heightened understanding and empathy so that my dealings with individuals have forever been positively affected.

    • jorgekafkazar says

      Nicely done, Aya. Yes, early readers will have a hard time saying what books influenced them. To some extent, every book affects us at that age.

  98. Two books I read as a child have stayed with me, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables (I’m re-reading it again) and The Once and Future King by T H White. For non-fiction it would be Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning in my later teens and Siddhartha by Herman Hesse . I made character choices as a child from those first two books, they informed my courage and my hope.The later two gave me a map to navigate early independence.

  99. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction but this one sounds like a good one. 🙂

    • Tony Findora says

      I love the Lord of the Rings trilogy and CS Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia!

      Honestly I’m literally shouting and cheering in my head as I read this post! I’ve been feeling this for some time now as I consider the concept of theme. I just hadn’t found something articulated what I felt until now. This was a great post. Even if I don’t end up being one of the winners, I’m seriously convinced that this book is one I want to read.

      Thank you SOOOO MUCH for sharing this with us! 🙂

  100. Steve D Gardner says

    Before answering your specific question, I want to thank you for how you are using your gift so generously to challenge and benefit my life. Although I have not yet read your fiction (I know, I need to do something about that.), I am indebted to you for your excellent instruction. BTW, I have a fifteen-year-old granddaughter, also greatly gifted, that I envision becoming someone much like you.

    Now to your question: Everything by C.S. Lewis – the Chronicles, the space trilogy, The Great Divorce, and all of his nonfiction – have been life changing for me.

  101. Michelle Christensen says

    I love the book A Wrinkle in Time. Meg is real. She has both strengths and weaknesses. The lesson she learned that love is the only thing that can conquer evil was and remains powerful to me.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      L’Engle’s musings on art, Walking on Water, is absolutely worth reading as well, if you haven’t already.

  102. I remember reading The Hobbit and it blew my mind. The world-building had my imagination on overdrive. I read so many fantasy books after that but The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy are still my favorites.

  103. It may sound strange, but Farnham’s Freehold by Robert Heinlein was the book that changed my life. Post nuclear war doesn’t seem like a story to inspire, but until I read that book, I hated reading. I was in the Navy and had time to do other things, but limited funds. A friend gave me his copy of the book (he had a bag full of books in his limited locker space and needed more room for new books.) I read the book in a couple days and enjoyed it so much I asked if he could loan me another… he gave me a bag full, including the Hobbit and LotR. I have been hooked reading (and lately listening to Audible version of) sci-fi and fantasy ever since.
    Now I am attempting to write my own, maybe it will be good enough to convert someone else to a reader/writer.

  104. There were two novels I read as a teenager that made me think “I want to write like this”: Rebecca and To Kill a Mockingbird. In recent years two books that I found deeply moving and relatable were Greensleeves by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, and Letters to Julia by Meredith Allady (book two in a little-known but amazing indie historical series).

    I saw your review of Maas’ book on Goodreads and filed the title away for future reference—thanks for hosting this giveaway!

  105. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Solzhenitsyn changed my life. I was a teen when I read it, and I learned how cruel people can be to one another yet how strong our desire to live is.

  106. Eileen Hickman says

    I first read The Emotional Craft of Fiction after sitting through Donald Maass’s full day workshop over the same topic. It was amazing. Many things he said hit home to me, but the thing that stood out the most, which he repeated in his key note speech later at that conference, was the importance of giving our readers hope. He believes, and I agree, that no matter how much the reading world asks for dark, gritty, “realistic” fiction, readers still want to find hope in their stories. Why else do we read?

  107. Elisha Dunham says

    Surprisingly enough, some of the books to most impact me have been the How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell! Though at first they just seem to be quirky and fun adventure stories, the characters and themes pack a deep emotional resonance. Hiccup’s resolve and ability to stand back up time and time again after being beaten down is remarkable, and an encouraging reminder that we can do the same! 🙂

  108. Kimberly - KKABSHERWRITES says

    So many! The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan Henry is a more recent read.

  109. Great post! Love it! <3

  110. While I love The Lord of the Rings, it was The Hobbit that was life-changing for me as a 10-year-old. Bilbo is the one who showed me the wide open world of fantasy–that it was more than just my childhood imagination, but that there were Others in the world like me who imagined whole worlds and languages and stories. It sparked in me the passion to pursue truth, goodness, and beauty through the pain of quest and story.

  111. saintmims126 says

    Anything written by Madeleine L’Engle has been life-changing for me. From the moment I read A Wrinkle in Time, through all her other, more adult books, I’ve been so inspired by the compassion and hope she infused in all her stories. I strive to do the same with my writing, to leave a lasting impression through relatable, unforgettable characters and stories that comfort and inspire.

  112. I love Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier. Just brilliant how she refers to Rebecca by name but we never learn the new wife’s name.
    I also enjoyed Snow Falling on Cedars for its character development.
    My other favorite is Cold Mountain, also for its beautiful character development and sense of hope throughout the book, even though it took place during the U.S. Civil War.
    I’ve read all of these several times because I get lost in the story. They’re all written so well!!

  113. I loved The Upside. It shows how two people from different socio-economic-cultural groups can make an impact in each others lives, despite their differences. I loved seeing how each one taught the other something important and how they both grew by the end of the movie.

  114. Vicki jennings says

    I’m showing my age, but Belva Plain’s characters and themes have always resonated with me. She knew how to craft a life-altering saga. Thanks, K.M., for challenging us to find the best!

  115. I think the story that changed my life was “Wolves of Willoughby Chase”. I read it when I was a child. It opened my eyes to what I could be if I tried.

  116. This post has filled me with so much hope and inspiration. I truly needed this today, a soulful pep talk on the transforming quality of truth and the life-giving energy of hope. Thank you!
    There are lots of books I could list, but these three are have had the deepest impact on me; The Count of Monte Cristo, Don Quixote, and Atlas Shrugged.

  117. Susanna Callaghan says

    So many from childhood, but maybe most of all The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

  118. Hmmm… I’d have to say Gone Girl, because it inspired me to write! Her parents are children’s book authors and I was like, “Well, that’s kinda fun! I’ll try it!” Then I ended up writing a YA novel. 🙂

  119. I have been an avid reader all my life. The first book I remember moving me to tears as a child was Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. It made such a deep impression, that my first novella, written when I was in 7th grade, was a setting of the Hiding Place in a “what if it happened here in America right now” frame. Would I be able to stand up for my faith as Corrie and her family did? Her example of writing that provokes change has impacted all my writing. This is one of the aspects of my current story I still ponder how to do without preaching or lecturing. So thank you for your post. It gives me a different way to approach what I hope will be a life-changing story.

  120. Elaine MIlner says

    I think The Lord of the Rings is one of the stories that most impacted my life because of the dedication, cooperation between different people, and the hardships endured with very little hope but in the end they won. I definitely want to write life-changing fiction and am discontent that my WIP falls short.

  121. Yes! This is my passion in life and the foundation for my writing. I’ve even started a book club to feature books like this, which I call the High-Vibe Book Club and I give keynote talks on this at holistic expos.

    So many fiction books have changed my life and I truly believe they can be part of the key to healing emotional trauma and society! I love that you’re creating awareness for this as well. You are such an inspiration <3

  122. SJ Robertson says

    The Stand, by Stephen King, and Joli Blon’s Bounce, by James Lee Burke. Both stories were battles between good and evil, but different genres. Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo, and The Lord of the Rings helped me understand how one’s faith influences their writing without being preachy. The Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler, and Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner, resonated with me back when I first started writing novels.

  123. I guess something is wrong with me. As a child, I tried to read The Hobbit and Wuthering Heights, both putting me to sleep, twice. But Dune did the same until I wss an adult and read it. Maybe I was too young.

    Since we’re talking about life changing, I have an opposite situation. I ghostwrote a story that involved a character that was bullied and pucked on in school. The story is about her life as an adult, with flashbacks.

    The reviews went on how well done the rough school years were, how true to life. That surprised me and got me thinking about my youth which I seldom let myself do.

    I realized, let myself face up to, what all I lived thru being the uncool kid growing up. Now i see my life differently as I now see my past with adult eyes.

    I write differently now, hoping I can help someone heal in an unexpected way.

    This is one time where the readers changed the writer. I’m blessed to have experienced this.

  124. This was really encouraging! Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder came at a really good time for me and is one of my favorites now.

  125. Dr. Kenneth R. Cooper says

    A story that definitely affected my life was The Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens. In the midst of the French Revolution, Dickens inserted the idea of someone dying in the place of another so the other could live. And the person who died looked ever so much like the person whose place he took. That is what Jesus Christ dis for me. He became a man and died “in my place” so I might live! Dickens told this story very clearly for a Victorian writer.

  126. When I was in high school I read “Daughter of the Forest” by Juliet Marillier. It instantly became my favorite. While the MC suffered great hardships, was many times hopeless, the story itself made me feel uplifted and safe. It was a very special feeling.

  127. Invictus, the movie directed by Clint Eastwood, was such a story for me. I live in New Zealand, a country mad about the game of rugby. I don’t share the general fanaticism of many NZers. In the past, I was always frustrated by the amount of money and effort that is directed toward the sport. I believed the time and money could be spent on much greater causes. However, Invictus gave me a new perspective. Whenever I think about it now, I’m still awed and humbled by what Nelson Mandela was able to do. He brought a divided nation together, using the people’s passion for rugby. And personally, I’m much more able to cope with the sports enthusiasm of those around me.

  128. The Chronicles of Narnia really changed me as a kid. It may be weird, but they gave a reality to my faith that I had never considered before.

    I love this entire article. My goal with my heroines is to write them not as generic “strong female characters” but as strong females WITH character. Their worth, power and growth goes beyond the edge of a sword or the strength of their arm or the wit of their words.

    I also relate to stories with hope. I want to write something that portrays the world as it could be, not a regurgitation of what it currently is.

    This was a wonderful piece of writing. It was really reinforcing and inspiring. Thank you for sharing!

  129. Emily’s Quest by Lucy M. Montgomery changed my life by awakening in me the desire to become an author.

  130. Audrey Hughey says

    I love this! Especially the LOTR quote. That movie had a massive impact on me and I’ve been hell-bent on improving my craft so I can emotionally move readers in that way just as those moments in the story moved me.

    Thank you for this!

  131. True stories, like The Great Escape, seem to affect me most on an emotional level. Occasionally, a fantasy or science fiction story will hit at a deep emotional level. Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke and The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey

  132. There are many stories that have changed my life – and then there are the rare few that saved my life. I endured a less than idyllic childhood: one of fear, violence, rage, and isolation. Books were what got me through it. A Wrinkle in Time showed me that a family, even an unusual one, could be a good and loving thing, no matter how far from that my own family was. It gave me hope for a better future. The Prydain Chronicles taught me how to endure hardships and struggle against evil, in whatever form it takes. They gave me courage. And when the time came to raise my son, in a very different type of childhood than the one I had known, I read these stories to him. As an adult, he is rereading The Prydain Chronicles, and plans to read them to the child he hopes to someday raise. Do I believe that stories can change lives? With all my heart.

  133. Lisa Capehart says

    I don’t remember the title, but when I discovered my first book by Andre Norton in my high school library, and then realized she was a woman…I knew someday my goal would be to write sci fy/fantasy and hopefully be as good as her!

  134. alicemfleury says

    I bought this book too. I have all Maass’s writing books. I had it on kindle and decided I needed it in my hands. Wonderful gift you are giving your readers

  135. Lila Diller says

    Oh, so many of the books I read as a child, especially as a teen, impacted me! Anne of Green Gables, Love Comes Softly, The Lord of the Rings + the Hobbit, Perelandra, A Wrinkle in Time, etc.

  136. This one may have inspired me to rewrite from memory a story I wrote as a child, during my Edgar Allen Poe stage. The protagonist gives a cursed item to the woman he is interested in, in place of a love potion… and it’s a fraud by the evil undead who gave it to him.

    The message was relentlessly dark and I can make the story a lot more sophisticated, but I think that it is what you say here, actionable. Stile should have known, heck he did know, that the person giving the item was evil. He could have given her the chance to make her own choice, could have braved the heartbreak, but he didn’t and now she’s out of reach.

    So the truth is that if you skulk around and don’t trust and take away the choices of the people you love, you push them away or turn them into something detestable. The action is back to Kahlil Gibran, “If you love something, let it go.”

    And, being that it IS from my Poe days–and the villain is an undead–October is a great time to put it out, don’t you think?

  137. Melissa McGuire says

    There are so many stories who have changed in both big and small ways. Off the top of my head -Divergent by Veronica Roth helped me to look at the way I define myself and others and the way those definitions become restrictions. The Harry Potter series: we are all called to greatness in our own way.

    I’m also a passionate reader and supporter of romance because I always want to remember the power and importance of love and that every one of us deserves some kind of happily ever after.

  138. A recent story I read that touched me deeply was “Spark” by Sarah Beth Durst. It’s a story about a loving relationship between a quiet girl, Mina, and her lightning beast, Pixit, and how together they changed their world for the better. That’s what I want to do — make the world better.

    Over the years, so many stories have touched me, it’s not possible to single out which have had more impact than the others. Who I am today is an accumulation of those influences. The stories that touch me most often involve disparate characters who overcome their differences to become allies, friends, and partners for life, and in so doing, they change themselves and the world around them. That is what I write about. The life advice I want to share with my readers and, ultimately, with the world is to be caring, loyal, and loving.

  139. This may seem an odd choice but the book that first comes to mind as a life-changer for me is The Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Although well into adulthood, I was shocked to realise, not everyone operates from the same core values as me. I think that was the lesson my dad tried to teach me whenever he affectionately referred to me as a ‘do-gooder’. The book didn’t change my values but forced me to see the world more realistically as well as with more empathy. Life is seen by different people through different lenses; some rosy, some dark with war and ancient customs.

    This is one of my favorite posts of yours. I also love that with all your knowledge, you never stop learning and sharing. Thank you.

  140. I’m not sure if I am entering the contest because there was a space for me to do so when I clicked on the “Leave a blog post comment,” but I could never get to it. Nonetheless, in trying, I ended up with checkmarks next to “I agree to the terms,” and another one next to “I commented.” So, I’m hoping I’m in. Maybe if you could check that…?

    The book that changed my life was a more recent book, A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. I would read it on my Kindle on the metro while on my way to teach yoga at George Washington University, so just a few pages each day. The protagonist, Ove, started out as a very curmudgeonly and angry man, that while funny, was not very likeable. But as the story continues, and you learn the reason for his anger, you begin to feel sorry for him. Then, as a woman sees the real person beneath the anger, and simply ignores his angry retorts, you begin to like him. By the time I finished the last page, I felt like I had lost my best friend. I certainly wasn’t ready for the book to end, and I truly wanted to spend more time with my friend, Ove.

    That’s the kind of character I want to create. A three dimensional character with flaws but someone that you slowly end up liking and rooting for.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      As a matter of fact, Maass references that novel in his book. 🙂

      I checked, and you are entered. Good luck!

  141. Pamela Reese says

    Too many to even collect all in one place… one of the first I recall was as a very young child… Black Beauty. It gave a voice to the hearts of animals in a way that touched my soul and which I embrace to this day. It changed my life and, in turn, I hope I have done my own little part to change the lives of animals, and to spread my passion to others.

  142. jorgekafkazar says

    Like Aya, I read early, and can’t recollect any single book that “changed my life.” I believe that life changes are seldom at the conscious level. They sink into the Unconscious, for good or bad. Almost every book has some effect, whether we know it or not. One book that I knew at the time I read it opened my mind to a greater world was Abbott’s Flatland, which explores dimensionality in a humorous way. A lot follows from that.

  143. The Narnia series by C.S Lewis. When I was younger I kept looking in my closet, hoping that a mysterious world would be there. . .

  144. Natalie Aguirre says

    I love the LOTR movies. They are so inspiring. Also the Harry Potter books got me into writing. For dealing with some of my personal challenges after my husband died, Twenty Wishes by Debbie Macomber really helped me.

  145. Debbie Burnham-Kidwell says

    It’s been over 50 years ago since I first read “Harriet the Spy” by Louise Fitzhugh, but I still take my first edition from my shelf every few years and reread it, beginning to end. Harriet may be just a tween, but her hopes and dreams, her independent thinking and insatiable curiosity, and her problems, as well as her solutions, all make her as honest and as self-aware a character as any other I’ve encountered in any other novel. She loves her biological and extended family, and she loves her friends—but that doesn’t stop her from hurting them, and they her. She struggles through it all, but she endures. As for hope, the final note she writes in her notebook is “Ole Golly is right. Sometimes you have to lie. Now that things are back to normal I can get some real work done.” Harriet, the spy, changed me when I was a kid, and, with every reading, it changes me still. Thank you for asking me to tell you about the book that changed my life, and for reminding me that I’m due for another reading of “Harriet the Spy.”

  146. Linda Crowley says

    The Black Stallion Mystery and the Island Stallion, both by Walter Farley strongly affected me. The allure of exotic and mysterious adventure made me want to create a world where others could explore and be lost in the excitement of books. It became an essential part of my dreams as an adult, although it was only in recent years, as a grandparent, that I’ve come to see how much it has affected me. I think i’t tied up in why I decided to become a writer for middle grade readers with advanced reading skills.

  147. Joshua Castleman says

    Yes! Yes! Yes! I want to give this post a standing ovation! I have been saying these things to people for years, albeit not quite as concisely or as focused, and it is like a breath of fresh air to hear someone else say them too. I’m not alone! Stories have so much power, and I feel like far too many people wield them like a kid with his daddy’s power tools, more often carelessly and destructively much more than in a helpful way.

    One of the strongest motivators I have to write is because I see so much hurt and despair and anger in the world. So much nihilism! And I thought, “Someone really needs to add some weight to the other side of the scales. Guess I’ll do my part.”

    (I was actually in an unexpected argument with my father-in-law earlier this year because he wanted me to get more riled up about politics and I said I find it more worthwhile to do something about it instead of just complain. I then said I’m writing stories that bring hope to the world and help people learn how to value each other better. Needless to say, he disagreed.)

    Stories that have changed my life: too many to list! But the first ones that come to mind are the usual suspects
    Star Wars (original trilogy)
    Lord of the Rings (I can’t even count how many times I’ve read that)
    Ender’s Game
    Calvin and Hobbes (no joke!)
    and many others

    Thanks for writing and sharing this!

  148. “Les Miserables” and “A Secret Garden” were two of the books that most impressed me as a young reader. Discovering new writers and losing myself in their worlds is one of my greatest pleasures. I’ve shared some of my favorite books as part of a challenge to encourage others to read more.

  149. This is the most truthful and profound—daring, too, in today’s writing milieu—post on writing that I have ever read, and I agree with every word of it. Thank you, K.M.

    Les Miserables is a book that changed me. C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, as well. As a child, Little Women comes to mind, and in non-fiction, The Miracle Worker, about Helen Keller’s teacher, Annie Sullivan, had a profound influence on my life, attitudes, and life choices. (I came to the book via the film when I was ten.)

    Sorry; I know we aren’t talking about biographies here, but a biography is a story, just a true one, right? And as you said, “It’s not stories that change people’s lives; it’s the truth.” That quotation and several others from your post are going into my notebook.

  150. Oh, another life changer as an adult was The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot.

  151. Great post! There’s a lot of darkness in our world, but life-changing fiction is a source of light to encourage and give readers/people hope, which is why I like it. All of my stories I write based upon the truth that I know and believe and what God requires of us, even though some things if it were simply up to my own opinion I wouldn’t bother concurring with. :p

  152. Ginger Holdeman says

    Jane Eyre inspired me to not only write, but to strive to write as well as Charlotte Bronte.

  153. Katie, I can attest to the value of this book and also the inspiration it provides. I’m thrilled that you’ve highlighted it here. I have a shelf that has my most often used writing craft books. On it, is this book, your books and a few books by Rayne Hall, which I find useful.

  154. This entire topic is so interesting. I have discovered that the more time I spend studying characterization, the more I understand pain, motivation, coping skills, etc. which has been eye opening for me.

  155. Marilyn Carvin says

    The Outlander changed my life, in that I decided to write a novel — not about a Highlander! So many of the books about Ireland were so dark and tragic unless they went back to medieval times, I wanted something more inspiring. No way can I come close to the exquisite literary skill of Gabaldon, but I can do whatever I can do. And since research on Ireland would be too much for me, my Irish hero is in California, before the Gold Rush! I’ve learned so much, and it’s been such fun! On second revision now.

  156. Yes! Yes! Yes!
    I am a complete and utter sucker for stories where the main character has “try” – last stands and lost causes are my candy (although, as Sam would tell you, it really stinks to be fighting for one).
    As to stories that changed my life, I can’t nail down one, but the part in LOTR where Gollum tries to caress Frodo and Sam misunderstands the gesture and chews him out nearly made me cry. It was so real – I’m pretty sure we’ve all had those moments where we almost convert, or do something good, screw out courage to the sticking point and then… walk away, because something happens to interrupt us.
    Little Women and C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books were hard-hitters, too, because those two authors nail human nature, and have the highly inconvenient habit of reminding us that our biggest achievements are likely to be very little things – – that dealing with the daily loves and trials of normal life is more important than any dreams of fame and fortune could ever be; that sacrificing one’s pride and comfortable vices are harder than saving the kingdom.

    That sort of thing.
    It’s the little stuff that hits hardest, and Alcott, Lewis and Tolkien all git really, really hard.
    So, yeah.
    Oh, and pretty much any moment in Tolkien’s The Children of Hurin… man, that’s a sad book, but so good…..

  157. Kathryn A Hack says

    By the time I was twelve, I’d read most of Sherlock Holmes. I loved the way Conan- Doyle created the scenes—the eerie moors, the rambling country side, the wonderfully cluttered house on Baker Street he shared with Watson, and the banter between them. His descriptions of everything English instilled a love for the country and its literature that feeds my soul.

  158. Alyssa Guthrie says

    Thanks Katie!! This was super inspiring! One of my biggest dreams is to write a novel that resonates with someone. 🙂

    • Alyssa Guthrie says

      I forgot to mention a book that changed me. 🙂 I’m a young writer, and so I can’t look back very far, but LOTR inspired me to write fiction and the message of The Hiding Place really resonated with me.

  159. Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes was the first book I read three times. I was drawn by the story I guess. Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Trilogy and Lloyd Alexander’s Black Cauldron series were important. The series reminds me a bit of Dreamlander in some ways.

    “Absolutely Sweet Marie” by Bob Dylan has my favorite lyric of all time: to live outside the law you must be honest (how true is that?) And finally Hunter S. Thompson’s The Great Shark Hunt taught me how to write with precision. And how to order a proper breakfast.

  160. Tough question! Two books stand out, “To Kill a Mockingbird”. and Neil Gaiman’s “Ocean At the End of the Lane”.

  161. Laurel Kamada says

    KT, thanks for this inspiring post. It is very good advice stated very simply and easy to understand. Now we need to go out and apply that advice. I want to inspire my readers and remain with them with some profound truths that we already knew. thank you. cheers, Laurel Kamada (over in Japan)

  162. I’m not sure if it really qualifies, but my number one life-changing book is the Bible. But as for fictional books, I really liked Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, because no matter how much the m.c. was in pain, she kept trying to do the right thing, even if other people hated her for it. She was so damaged but even so, she was able to find her courage and strength and stand her ground, which was very inspiring for me.

  163. Tonni Groves says

    I love what you do, Thank you it helps a lot. My pivot point wasn’t a book. It was a hand full of authors, and writing my own modual for a D&D game campain. It was the series of books by authors, Like Pern and Petabee series by Anne McCaffrey. And Earth Children by Jean M. Auel, the Chesuli series by Roberson, Spider Robertson, douglas Adams. My Mom would read the Xanth and Robot adept seiries by Piers Anthony when we were little, a chapter every night. others that I reread every year or two, Andre Norton, Catherine Coulter, Nora Roberts, Kate McAlister but if I had to sift through and pin point something it would be Deathgift by Zeddies, Beauty by McKinley, Deerskin by ? cant remember, Glorylane by Allen Dean Foster, Dragon Prince by Rawn, Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper, Child of the grove by Huff, the first 3 of the earth children(clan of the cave bear, Vally of the horses, Mammoth hunters), the sherbrook bride by Coulter, the hitchhickers guide by Adams and McCaffrey’s Freedom’s Landing, the first book of the harper hall trilagy, and the brain ship with Tia(cant find the book to say title) , and her Crystal singer. They all had a profound influence and changed my outlook little by big bounds. sorry about the errors I’m half asleep. lol lately I’ve found some awesome Paranormal romance and trying to find stuff I read in the 80’s, fantasy and scifi mostly.

  164. Far too many books affected me deeply to recall here. One was “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice,” by Laurie R. King. I remember reading that book as a teenager, hearing about a friend’s attempted suicide, and realizing thorugh the protagonist’s struggle with guilt and the trauma of loss, that it was possible to both be broken and do beautiful things with your life. That book to me is always scented with pine needles and spices, a shadowed space lit with candles, and the soft singing of a choir repeating “Dona nobis pacem” in round after round.
    Loving someone does not mean you cannot also hate them. Loving someone will not prevent them, or you, from causing immeasurable pain to the other. These truths struck deep.

  165. Casandra Merritt says

    I also watched the Lord of the Rings lately, and I was surprised at how many times the theme of hope appears. I began to count how many times the word hope was mentioned, and I lost track. One of the best stories ever written. Means more every time I watch it.

  166. Thank you for this post. This came along at a perfect time for me. I struggle at times with what is the “so what?” of my story, which gnaws at me more than feels necessary. But I know deep down the “so what?” matters. Writings that resonated deep with my soul when I read them include Song of Myself, The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, and Wild.

  167. Back in the 70s when I was a kid, I had this fascination with vampires, Dracula, in particular, and I was an avid reader. Along came The Dracula Tape, by Fred Saberhagen, which is Stoker’s story told from Dracula’s (admittedly somewhat less than completely honest) perspective. As a kid, I saw the vampire genre as all cloaked in black capes and sleeping in coffins. The Dracula tape made me realize that there is always more than one side to a story and inspired me to realize that you don’t have to stick to established tropes to tell a good story (and certainly that genre has proved this over and over in more recent times).

  168. Massiel Zapata says

    “The Little Prince”, “Around the world in 80 days”, “Little women” and more recently “Les miserables”, “The count of Monte Cristo”, “The orphan master’s son”. Great post!

  169. Tonni Groves says

    I was gonna ask if poetry counts, I was a typical teen writing out the angst in poems, but 2 poems fulled those, Tyger,Tyger and Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot

  170. M. L. Bull says

    “The Reason” by William Sirls is one Christian fiction novel that impacted and inspired me. It discusses the love of God and it’s involvement in our lives despite life’s hardship. Each character has something different he/she is dealing with: a mother who’s 5-year-old son has leukemia, a young woman haunted by an abusive childhood, a doctor haunted by his sister’s death, a blind pastor in need of help with repairing a church cross, and another doctor who struggles with accepting defeat in her practice of medicine.

    A special, mysterious visitor comes and has and impact on them getting them to “only believe” and consider and realize the important moral of the story: the reason Jesus died for us.

  171. Julie Tennis says

    “For Love of a Horse” was one of the first books I read that inspired me to better versions of myself. All I recall now is “shindai,” this concept of peace, and the possibility of using ones voice to help animals.

  172. You hit the nail on the head for how I’ve felt about stories for so long. I’ve encounter those who feel every story needs to be “real” with all the grittiness of real life, and in the end it’s such a reflection of the state of the world, and when I’ve tried to point out that not everyone wants a story that reminds them of how bad it is out there. More often than not, people want to escape the world around them, they want hope. I feel it is so important to craft stories that while they are grounded in the struggles of life, it also points to hope, and what could be.

    Thank you for this article, and for alerting me to the existence of this book, it’s definitely going to be one I read.

  173. I think just remembering books from when I was a toddler, Little Golden Books, my mother took me to the library. It was Dr. Seuss, a group of stories , The Sneetches, started my love for books and my love for all things books, I love libraries, i bought a book from the book paper we would get from school, of course being a boy it was war related, “God is My Co-Pilot” I even have a copy in my library,so it was history of all kinds and heroes from all ages, My writing now is creating a hero, He may be rough and dark, but he has honor and duty in his DNA,

  174. Kayla Updike says

    Most wonderful post, ever. Thanks, Katie!
    I think I’m with you, Lord of the Rings has definitely been one of those life changing stories for me. To keep on believing in the good even when the world is falling apart. There is power in that, unshakable power. I’ve grown to appreciate LOTR so much as an adult. It gets better every time I watch it.

    To Kill A Mockingbird, too, taught me there is still a place and a need for those who do right and good things, even if they don’t seem the strongest things. Scout is my reminder to always to see the world through innocent eyes.

    I have to read Donald Mass now. No matter what.

  175. Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane opened my mind to fiction like few others have.
    A Monster Calls did much the same thing and came just in time to help me watch my own mother be taken by cancer.
    Oddly enough, every time I see a conch shell, I can’t escape Lord of the Flies – it’s branded into my mind.

  176. “Flowers for Algernon.” It was the first story that brought me to tears.

  177. Thanks again, Katie! This is exactly why I keep coming back to your blog!
    I’ve been thinking about this exact topic quite a bit lately. It’s driven me to study theme a bunch and pay attention to it much more than I have ever. Someone asked me recently why I seemed to be having such trouble with my current WIP and I told them that I was searching for the real heart – the real theme – of the story. I didn’t and don’t want to write another story without the kind of intention you have written about here. It’s a real challenge. I feel the pressure of it, but it’s a pressure I happily take on, because I know I want to write stories of truth and worth.
    To answer your question, I think it was The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn early on. Also, The Hobbit and Moorcock’s Elric series both left an emotional mark, but these were a little later. Still later, it was Being There and The Alchemist. Don’t even get me started on movies. 🙂

  178. This post was super informative! Thank you! The book that resonates with me the most is The Thorn Birds. It covered all the emotional bases for me as well as understanding the various relationships that the female character faces whether it be with her mom, her brothers, her husband…or the priest.

  179. Carolyn Wettstone says

    Timothy Tattercoat is the first fiction I remember, from about 10 years old. It caught hold of my imagination.
    Thank you for your work for writers.

  180. Dennis Michael Montgomery says

    Again your article was insightful and thought provoking and made me feel a little bit shallow. For when I read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and Donaldson’s ‘The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever’ I wasn’t looking for a life changing moment I wanted to be entertained and escape reality which I was and did.

    At my first reading of Donaldson I was insensitive. I knew Covenant was a jerk (mentally I kept yelling at him), but didn’t know how much of a jerk until years later.

    As the years went by Tolkien and Donaldson became my standard bearers of great writing and fantasy. I became annoyed that other authors didn’t meet their standards. So annoyed that I decided to write my own fantasy to fill this void. Did I fill this void? Yeah. Did I meet these standards? Ask me, did Dolly Parton let me sit on her lap playing harmonica for her next recording.

    Somewhere along my twenty plus years of on and off and again on of writing my book I decided I didn’t want to be a hack and write trash. This is why I read your essays.

    Your new standards you are encouraging we writers to aspire to is a bit overwhelming. Perhaps this another life changing moment.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      We all want to be entertained by our stories. Nothing inherently shallow about that. Sometimes the very fact that a particular story has the capability to hold your attention is an indication that it touched you in ways you may not even have recognized on a conscious level.

  181. The Alchemist was a good one. As were many of the Darkover series by MZB – for showing strong women and sexual diversity.

  182. Tiffany Smith says

    I don’t know… I am very bad at knowing what has effected me. I think the Lord of the Rings might fit, though, if only because it’s the only series I read at least six times. In a row. I wrote my first story based on it, even though it was a terrible fanfiction and never got finished. In recent years, I would have to add Guild Wars 2, an RPG game by ArenaNet with an awesome storyline, if only because it engaged me so hard, got me obsessed with writing somehow, and still has a hold on my life even several years later.

    Who knows what other stories have sprung up at me through the years, been read, and faded into the obscurity of memory. Maybe I’m just bad at understanding what ‘effected my life’ means. Or maybe I just haven’t thought about it enough. I do feel as if Little Women and the Secret Garden were good books, although it’s been so long since I read them that it would be hard to say any more than that as regards the question.

    Happy writing,
    ~~Tiffany Smith

  183. Maria Christine Vesterli says

    I have two stories that I use as guide posts for how stories can change lives and how I should go about it.

    The first one is actually more of a warning to me. “Sense and Sensibility” by Jane Austen. It changed my life – until I decided that it was changing me in a bad way. I became too much like Elinor. The novel made it very clear that Elinor, as the embodiment of sense, was someone to admire. Her sister Marianne, as the embodiment of sensibility, made me want to bang my head against the wall. A few days after I had finished the book, I noticed that I was acting more like Elinor than I was before reading the book. Which meant that I was placing being socially proper above my own needs. Sure, Elinor acted the “right” way in social situations – but that standard wasn’t one that normal people can keep up with. You need a balance. “Sense and Sensibility” didn’t teach that.

    As authors, we have a responsibility to our readers to not poison them. I never want to do to my writers what “Sense and Sensibility” did to me. It’s not even as if it’s a bad message per se. I’d still rather have sense over sensibility. But the way it was told made it so I had to fight my way out of the damage it had caused. I’m just glad I had enough self-awareness to catch it quickly.

    But usually when we talk about stories that have changed our lives it’s in a positive manner and I do have one of those examples as well. “Haikyuu!!” by Haruichi Furudate. It’s a volleyball manga, which means it’s technically just about a bunch of high school kids trying to win volleyball matches. But there are so many times where I read it and think “This is life. This is how life works.” And no matter who you are, there are characters you can relate to. There are characters you can look up to. Often they can be the same character. And sometimes genre conventions say that one thing should happen and Furudate says “That isn’t real. I’m gonna do something else.” And through all of it, there’s hope. The story says, “You’re gonna lose sometimes, and you’re gonna fall. And it’s okay. You still matter, you can still get back up. You lost your chance. Make the best of the next one.”

    THAT is the kind of stories that I want to write. The ones that are true, the ones hat teaches you to stand up, to take the next step, the ones that hurt but are good to you anyway. Maybe even BECAUSE they hurt.

    Every story has the potential to change someone if they are true. I’m going to aim for stories that makes my readers better. Even if it is just one of them.

    PS. Just going to throw some quotes from “Haikyuu!!” in:

    “Today, you are the defeated. Which will you be tomorrow?”

    “What if I’m still scared?” “That’s easy, you get help!”

    “Well, mediocre me, do you have any time to waste looking down?”

    “Today, I’m going to be on my side.”

  184. I loved this, thanks! CS Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia were life-changing for me as a child, also The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge.

  185. I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb – so exquisitely written. At first I thought, “I could never write that well.” But it made me want to try. Also, it was the longest book I had ever read, and yet a part of me didn’t want it to end because of the writing!

  186. Miriam McCrohan says

    Anne of Green Gables series and Pollyanna as a child. I played and still play the “glad games” as it taught me to be an intrepid optimist. As an adult “These old shades” by Georgette Heyer and the delightful adventurer “The Scarlet Pimpinel.” I also loved Thomas Hardy’s love of description especially the countryside. The arrow of emotions that strike the heart and mind are the reason I re-read these books over and over. Even after nearly 40 years….the stories are even more evocative today. Thanks KW for a chance to share.

  187. Books have always been life-changing for me and that is why I want to write. I don’t think I could name one book as so many have had an effect. The Lord of the Rings books and movies is certainly one. There are many, many more. I strive to write in a manner that would affect readers in the same way I have been affected. I hope I am successful. Thanks, Katie!

  188. “Matilda” by Roald Dahl. If a little girl can upend bad adults, who’s to say David can’t beat Goliath? I like underdog stories.

  189. The Smith Family Robinson was a story that changed my perception of how people could use technology to create a wonderful family life.
    I remember watching it on TV and seeing the bamboo pipes, which eased the mothers concerns about living on the Island, and freed up time for the family to play.
    Those simple bamboo water pipes showed that the purpose of effort was to create systems for effortless happiness.
    It showed people were more valuable than time or resources or society.
    That all we need is each other, systems to solve problems, and an island.
    No trade, no economy, no government, no enterprise, no charity, no hierarchy, no money, no authority.
    No specialization. No job identity. No classes. No judgement.
    No exploitation or power over others, no taking or claiming of any kind.
    Just people and animals, and systems that enabled the family to enjoy and appreciate them.
    That the first thing people should do when they arrive in an environment is create systems that ensure happiness and free time.
    It showed a higher purpose than the kind of work which is never really done. Or subjugation into a cog of society.
    A higher purpose than toil, like fetching water each day, which detracts from human interaction, nor making someone else fetch it, which detracts from freedom.
    Later, I re-watched as an adult, and saw that the pipes achieved little more than what taps and a fridge do today. They still had much to do day by day to survive on the Island.
    However, the surprise rapidity with which they implemented the bamboo pipes and evaporative cooler fridge replacement, combined with the fact that they needed no-ones help or permission to do something in a new way, set the trajectory of my childhood imagination.
    With sufficient ingenuity, the concept expands to all spheres.
    An adult realist has to admit that with sufficient know-how, no sphere of life is exempt from some form of solution. However, despite the progress of recent history, few stories today envision a utopian future without fatal flaws.
    Now, I am inspired to write speculative fiction in a realistic happy future where:
    No freedom is stolen by necessary work.
    No individuals advantage is stolen by power.
    No youth is stolen by age.
    No love is stolen by undesirability or disharmony.
    No charity or taxes fund the poor, because there is no poor.
    Just like the bamboo water pipes on the island, there are systematic solutions that transcend the false dichotomies society inculcates to trap the soul.
    Competition and scarcity have been natural since life began, but they are not inevitable.
    Winners do not need losers to win.
    Neither brain nor body need limit the soul.
    If only we would build it, then we can play with the animals in the sun.
    Happy families who finally escaped the oppression of limited lives.

  190. I just read House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III and it was pretty life-changing. Amazing book. I can’t wait to read more of Dubus’ work. Great post! I’m feeling inspired today!

  191. simonepuddu says

    “Un indovino mi disse” (A Fortuneteller told me) and The forbidden door from Tiziano Terzani, definitely change my life. Fiction books: Momo from Michael Ende.

  192. Marie Guérin says

    This could apply to a few books in my life. That’s not going to be an original one but the Harry Potter series of course for the magic it brought in the life of a ten-years-old girl who was having a hard time of it. As a grown up Literature or Life by Jorge Semprun. Even though it is a tough read it still delivers a true message of hope from someone who survived Buchenwald. Also Code Name Verity and BAT 21 that both reserved big surprises for me about the main characters.

  193. Lana Christian says

    As always, I love your posts. I follow them, save them, and use them with my writing more than any others I read. You’ve helped me tremendously with character arcs. Thank you!

  194. Has anyone asked you, “How can you read that?” or “How can you watch that stuff?”. This is probably the best reason why.

    Love your posts. Keep up the good work.

  195. Another great post! It reminds me of James Scott Bell’s definition of fiction: “The emotional satisfying account of how a character deals with imminent death.”

  196. Sarah’s Key, really touching story about the Holocaust and the way the book was formatting made it like you were following the main character.

  197. GWENDALYN Cope says

    I loved this post! It was an amazing and gutsy choice to talk about meaningful stories in a time when everyone else is only talking about *volume* in writing. You know, like how to turn your book into a series before you’ve even finished it.
    So, so many books have had that life-changing effect on me: Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum, King’s The Shining and Duma Key, The Brothers Karamazov, the Dave Robichaux books, etc., etc.
    Thanks for posting this!

  198. Olive Kitteredge by Elizabeth Strout. It made me think really hard about people I don’t like, and how I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes.

  199. I’m not sure about ones that changed my life, but I remember at the end of the Divergent series, the last book – Allegiant – where one of the main characters gets killed, I remember feeling a little jarred for a few days afterward. I was expecting the usual happy ever after ending and it certainly took some guts for the author Veronica Roth to do that.

  200. Hmm, it’s a curious thing to find that one book that “changed” me. I mean, I feel like most things I’ve read have changed me in some ways. Realizing I could be surprised from the ending of Ender’s Gam, feeling the emotion and guilt and anger within The Count of Monte Cristo, re-reading the verbal gymnastics of Catch-22… Sometimes it’s as if you feel a new emotion or you newly recognize the ability to appreciate the depth an author intended. But the novel that really got me going when I read it at 10 or 11 was A Wrinkle in Time. Amazing characters, exciting story, but it played around with concepts like other dimensions, time, spirituality. I had never read anything comparable, so it sent me chasing that kind of story. I reread it to my kids a few years ago, and it still holds up pretty well. I feel like I see new things about the book that I grasp as an adult but did not as a child… L’Engle’s sarcasm and wit, the varied symbolism, the depth of the themes. So, that one.

  201. Rebecca wade says

    Add You Like It. When I was in middle school I found a graphic novel version of the play. I devoured it and when I was done I wanted more, but the were no more graphic novel versions of his work so I read his originall works instead. This started a life long love affair with classic literature.

  202. Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place was a pivotal book for me. It made me ask the question: would I be faithful if I were faced with the threat of pain and death. That was the question I explored in my first “novel” written in Junior High. And this idea of exploring life-altering questions continues in my writing today. I struggle with finding non-preaching and non-lecturing ways to write truth so it was helpful to read your blog. Thank you for sharing some of your reflections on writing life-changing fiction. I’ll have to check out Maass’s book as well.

  203. The Narnia books, and Lord of the Rings are my favorites. When Gandalf stood his ground against evil “You shall not pass” inspires me to stand firm again evildoers.

  204. Karla Valenti says

    You mentioned “Book Thief” which brought me to tears (as did his new book “Bridge of Clay”). His ability to capture the human ethos is unparalleled.

  205. Lori Altebaumer says

    Yes! I love this article. So much truth.

  206. Crystal Mims says

    I also have noticed that as I study and learn about story structure and character arcs that it reflects real life. I was surprised to see that other people have noticed it as well.

  207. Yo K.M. Well said all around. Thanks for creating and sharing this piece!

  208. A very good question, Katie!
    But…how on earth do I pick just one?

    I’ve touched on this here before, books were close to all I had as a child. Those moments reading were easy to get lost in. There was always a vast range of genres and reading levels available to me, and I wasn’t choosy. I devoured them all. And returned to read many again, more than once.

    White Fang, the original Jungle Book, The Sherlock Holmes Collection, Nancy Drew series, To Kill A Mockingbird…authors like Agatha Christie, C.S. Lewis, Ray Bradbury, Tom Clancy, George Orwell, Steven King, Charles Dickens…every one inspiring in some new, unique way.

    I would be hard put to place my hand on only one that was life changing or even my favorite, they all were. And still are.
    And there are always new ones just around the bend.

  209. Thank you. This is what I needed this month. I’ve been putting off my writing, because it feels like it doesn’t matter sometimes. This was the kick I needed. You’ve mastered the life changing article…

  210. I’d agree with Ingrid: so many books have touched me. Most recently I think, it was John Buchan’s classic spy adventure Mr Standfast with its message of fortitude. I read it at a time of major change in my life and it helped me be strong when I needed to be.

  211. Shogun, made me love reading.

  212. Carl Kjellberg says

    In a world that is awash with social media posts that are here today then instantly forgotten tomorrow, I love your call for writing that is not only entertaining but meaningful and life changing. I guess that at heart this is what all writers would want but somehow it often feels elusive. I love your blog as I feel it constantly reminds me that excellence is something that can be achieved, albeit through hard work.

  213. Christi Minton says

    Love this post! Yes, stories can change us in such incredibly significant ways. This is why classics are classics, because the authors have found the bridge of human experience, taken the reader by the hand, and crossed that bridge using some particle of shared truth as a catalyst to connection. Thanks for another wonderful post!

  214. David Snyder says

    Dear Katie,

    Here’s my answer:

    Saul Bellow, Nobel Prize in Literature winner. Mr. Sammler’s Planet.

    Contains some of the best closing lines I have ever read, which state that at the end of life, each person knows in his or her innermost heart whether they have fulfilled their contract with God, because “we know, we know, we know.”

    I got goosebumps and it took my breath away. First time I read it, and each time after that.

    Changed my life utterly in that it made me want to write.


  215. I can’t pinpoint any one book that has changed my life. I guess if we’re being honest, every story we hear, every tale we tell changes us in some way. Our very personality is molded and changed with our varied life experiences. I enjoy fantasy as an escape. Some of the books I’ve read have shown me to be grateful for the mundane and the ritual of the everyday.

  216. Hi Katie,

    The story that has most influenced me was not a famous one. It was the winning story in a local competition titled ‘The Man on the Moon’ by Becky Bunting- just a beautiful flash fiction piece that showed me writing can sometimes be more about the music of the narrative, than the actual story.


    Thanks for the opportunity to enter your giveaway! 😊

  217. I am going to add this to my list to read. Right now I am reading your Outlining Your Novel. I had grabbed a couple of other books to help me get started in writing, but I am making so much progress with planning my book that I am afraid to add in anything else or distract myself. The amazing things that are unfolding as I answer the questions/suggestions you pose… That sounds corny, but for the first time I feel like I have a clear idea of where I am going with a book and a very high chance of having something worthwhile at the end! I have had so many false starts and it’s just very exciting. I am so excited to get a chance to work on my book every morning.

  218. Ava Fairhall says

    This is an awesome post – I love reading your blogs every week, I always find something new to try out in my writing. And being able to write emotional fiction that moves people, that’s my favourite thing to try right now.

  219. Valari Westeren says

    I’m reading Wuthering Heights for the first time, and I’m kinda surprised that you like it so much. It’s just striking me as dark and tragic without much hope right now. But now I’m encouraged to keep reading until the end. And who knows, maybe it’s one of those stories I’ll have to read a second time to fully appreciate it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Full disclosure: it took me three reads to fall in love with it. First time, I read it, I gave it three stars. Second, four stars. Third, five. 🙂

  220. I have a terrible time remembering details from my past ~ details like books that changed your life, teachers that made a difference, the biggest lesson you learned under the bleachers at the football game [no, wait, I know that one 😉 ] ~ those kind of details. But I read a lot and am grateful to have found your blog, Ms. Weiland. Your input is developmental in my growth as a writer. Thank you!

  221. The story (series) that changed my life was the Chronicles of Narnia. I now love everything C.S. Lewis. When I was a kid I really didn’t enjoy reading, but this is one series I read over and over. I now love reading, writing, and am working on my first novel. I relly enjoy your podcast and blog as it inspires not only writers to become authors but inspires people to become everything they were created to be! Thanks!

  222. I don’t read a lot of fiction. I’m mostly a movie guy (and writer). But in my mid-20s I read Steinbeck’s East of Eden. I read the last five pages through eyes blurred by tears, and when I finished the last page I convulsed with unstoppable crying for a full ten minutes. It was the most powerful reading (or movie) experience I’ve ever had. Did it make me a better person? I’m not sure. As best I can recall, it left me with the profound feeling that life itself is simply tragic, even though I’ve not experienced anything like the traumas portrayed in that book. Perhaps it deepened my ability to feel intensely, to empathise, to want to empathise.

    Thank you so much for what you do, Katie. I’m a big fan, have been for a couple of years now. A little heart flutter happens every time I see one of your emails in my inbox.



  223. Anne Bender says

    The story that changed my life is Jonathan Livingston Seagull. My mom had me read this when I was about 10 years old and I have never looked at life the same way since.

  224. Rebecca Hunter says

    I don’t know about a book that has “changed my life”, but I was really touched by Kamin Mohammadi’s books, and I think Paul Galico is an amazing author.

  225. The story that changed my life was the Betsy-Tacy series. Ever since my mom first read them to me, I’ve adored them.

    Another book that’s changed my life is your 5 Secrets of Story Structure. It has taught me so much. Thank you!

  226. Thank you so much for this post. I feel it clarifies the type of books I hope to write. I truly appreciate your posts.

  227. This is some fantastic advice K.M! I’m definitely adding this book to my ‘Writing Books to Buy’ list!

  228. Karla Diaz says

    As always an on point post. This is exactly what I needed to read/hear for my current WIP. Thanks, K. M. I’ve always enjoyed reading but writing wasn’t really on my radar until about 10 years ago. I have read so many books that I’ve loved and I’m sure many have impacted my life: Pride & Prejudice, Lord of the Flies, Harry Potter, Hunger Games… But lately (and I mean in the past 5 years) books on the craft of writing including all of yours (Structuring Your Novel and Outlining Your Novel were the very first ones I purchased). Today I’m reading The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know, and I can’t put it down!

  229. M. R. Shupp says

    I recently just read The Story of With by Allen Arnold, and I can’t get it out of my head. Being creative with God is so much more rewarding than being creative without Him; thus, I am really striving to change the way I’m creative to be with Him.

  230. Great article. I think one of the reasons i like WF – both to read and write- is because an idea to ponder– is part of the story. I particularly like “Write Fiction that Hopes.”
    The book that changed me would be To Kill A Mockingbird. I was fortunate to teach 11th grade English for years and we discussed that book every year. Teaching hope through fiction is important.

    I follow your newsletters. I hope to see you at NJRW conference.

    Judi w/a Reece

  231. One of many books that changed my life was Kristin Cashore’s “Fire.” She has a wonderful, soul-touching way with words. Somehow she’s economical with them, too. Her writing brightens my day every time.

  232. This book sounds amazing. I’ve been slowly going through all of your posts and re-teaching my self how to outline and create unforgetable characters. It takes time to learn but I appreciate all that you share for the sake of the craft. Thanks. <3

  233. Yvonne Griffiths says

    Little Women moved me to write life-changing fiction; it felt like I knew Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. How Louise May Alcott weaves the challenges her characters face, with their emotional highs that leaves the reader laughing and crying with them, inspires me to write stories like that.

  234. I read LotR when was in the forth grade and it sent me on the way toward loving fantasy.

  235. LaVeryle Spencer wrote a book called Bitter Sweet about a woman whose husband died and she moved back to her hometown. It was kind of a sad book, but it’s about a second chance at love story and in the end, she has gotten back together with a man she loved many years ago. At that time in my life, I could connect with the emotions in the book. As a young girl, I loved Little Women.

  236. One of my favourite books is The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth Craighead Speare. I read it years ago for a school project, and kept coming back to it, and coming back to it, and I’m still going back to it, trying to figure out what about it fascinates me so much. To an extent, I realized that it definitely had an emotional appeal that simply wasn’t in so many of the books I’ve read.
    I’ve often heard the advice “write what you’re afraid of”, and understood it in the vague idea that facing fears requires bravery, and the conflict produces a rawness in writing that people crave. But, at risk of pointing out the obvious, that is scary. Advice I brushed under the rug because “I’m not at that point yet” (actually, to be honest, I use that excuse a lot).

    Your post really helped me understand this better. Thank you. (And I will definitely be getting my hands on that book!)

  237. Sandy Schuster-Hubbard says

    The Diary of Anne Frank. If Anne could share that people are good at heart given her austere circumstances, then so could I. Read this when I was thirteen. She also had the insight that our parents can only offer us so much, and our character is what we make it.

  238. Michelle Taylor says

    There are many non fiction books that have changed my life but I can’t think of any fiction books right now. Here’s to hoping I can find one.

  239. ‘My Friend Flicka’! It was a book that was an unusual choice for me at the time but I found it so compelling that I read the series and enjoyed them all. I believe it was the first book that I connected with emotionally while I was reading it – instead of after I finished reading it. Right now, like so many others posting on your blog here, I’m reading your ‘Creating Character Arcs’ – which really is a book that is changing my creative and writing life! You are an amazingly clear and talented teacher KM – thanks for creating and running this blog. I’m sure Mr Maass’s book is good, but I’ll bet that a future book of yours on the topic will distill all that information down into a clear set of exercises that your students can use and apply to their own writing. Happy writing KM and I too shall endeavour to write something life-changing!

  240. I’ve read so many books and I think that all of them shaped who I am today. But I can’t pin point one specific story that changed me or a part of my life.
    In another medium I remember an instance where a story really had a direct impact on me. It was an anime called Sakurasou no pet na Kanojo, about a group of misfit students, who live in a special dorm.
    The MC is rather normal and has to move there because its the only place he can keep his cats. He is bored by his normal, all too regular life and lacks the drive to accomplish anything. This changes once he starts living at the dorm. The eccentric students living there are all really talented in different kinds of art and really hard at work to one day become professionals. Seeing them all being super motivated at work, he realizes, what he is missing: a dream. Interestingly enough in the end of the story he fails to accomplish his goals. But it doesn’t end on a depressing note. He realizes that failing is ok, that it takes hard work to get where he wants, and that he will keep trying to make it in the world of game design. But there is one thing that is not ok: not even trying.
    This made me think that, while I was writing stories, I wasn’t really trying to get anywhere. Whenever I feel like becoming an author is too far fetched of a goal, I rewatch this series (or some episodes) because then I think, I have to keep trying for real. If I fail that is ok, but not even trying is not ok!

  241. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout changed how I look at people, but it also changed the way I write characters who are flawed. Highly recommend!

  242. Ranee Tomlin says

    I read Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” when I was ten and learned about prejudice, courage, integrity, and more. I’ve been reading all my life, and I’ve still never encountered a book that changed me so profoundly.

  243. David Sofi says

    Perhaps the most impactful, early read that moved the rudder on my life journey was Atlas Shrugged. There have been many after that. Currently I am reading and rereading every Lee Child story in the Jack Reacher series.

  244. Ms. Albina says

    I have read Anne of Green Gables, The hobbit, and the lord of the rings.
    love the Anne of Green Gables movies.

    One book I have not read yet is Art of racing in the rain.
    I saw the movie.
    I love your books. I also like The Tail of the Emily Windsnap book series.
    Who is your favorite character in the Lord of the Rings or The hobbit?
    How many books are you going to be writing?
    For character profile how long do you do it?

    • Ms. Albina says

      I felt with Anne Shirley about having a blossom friend and not liking Gilbert gylth at first. I am glad that married.

  245. Station Eleven truly showed me how to put the humanity into strange situations.

  246. Johnny O'Sullivan says

    The Mayor of Casterbridge was the first novel we read in high school that discussed fate and free will. Blew my mind.

  247. The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold changed my life. I am the complete opposite demographic from the middle-aged, experienced, male hero but he is one of my heroes for the way he handled immense responsibility and continued doing his best against impossible odds. His story has inspired me through incredibly hard times. It’s actually almost embarrassing how much I look up to a fictional character.

  248. I read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye when I was thirteen and it changed not only the way I see myself but also the world around me.

  249. There are way too many books in this post that I need to find time to read! Thanks again for blowing my brain…and inspiring my creative sparks! Light the Dark, all of Maas and your books added to the TBR!. 😉

  250. Joanna Johnson says

    The Phantom Tollbooth absolutely changed how I view the world, especially the mundane elements of life’s day to day. What I really gained from it, as a child, was to enjoy every day for what it brings you, and there are so many ways to find interest in even the mundane.

  251. Ender’s Game changed my view of people/characters (real life and fiction). I could relate to Ender to such an unbelievable degree. Such a masterpiece! 🙂

  252. I recently read the Lord of the Rings Trilogy for the first time, and have watched the first two movies… I’m rather dreading that third one, to be honest, because I know it will get so much worse before it gets better, and even knowing the ending I often mirror Sam’s monologue “How could the end be happy.
    How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened?” But, honestly, it is a series I would watch again today. I was ready to rewatch Fellowship of the Ring as soon as I finished, because it resonated with where I was in real life. With their world, and mine, growing troubled, there has been so much for me to learn and glean. “This Is my Father’s World” is even incorporated briefly into the theme music… Perhaps inintentional, but this musician caught it. That melody, with it’s assurance that “although the wrong seems off so strong, God is the ruler yet” really struck me to the heart. Isn’t that what Lord of the Rings is all about? Or at least, one of the many things?

    “Frodo: ‘I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.’
    Gandalf: ‘So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides that of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, in which case you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.'”

    If I could one day write a story with that sort of intention and impact… I don’t know… my heart might explode with happiness. 😊

  253. C. S. Lewis’s ‘Narnia’ series has rooted my life in what is important. As did Randy Alcorn’s ‘Safely Home’. Live your life in light of eternity. Making choices now that will impact others. Of course this only happens as we make the decision to follow ‘Aslan’. Without his power and love, we won’t make much of an impact.

  254. A story that changed my life is the game Xenogeas with its main message of humans being inherently flawed an needing the help of one another. The writers behind had not only deep insight about mankind but strong compassion as well. It also blew my mind by how many storylines and themes it tackled while also building a world with a staggering scope and history. I discovered the Enneagram system from that game which helped me understand myself a lot more. I was also impacted in the sense that I want to create something as compelling as that game.

  255. The Fionavar Tapestry was the first Fantasy that really made me visit another world. I still re-read it once a year, and it still moves something inside like most stories never have been able to do.

  256. Lisa Anderson says

    A story that changed my life was Safely Home by Randy Alcorn. It was so actionable and revealing about a people group I’ve only heard about on the news.

  257. The Lord of the Rings is the series that made me fall in love with fantasy and want to be a writer.

  258. Tammy Travis says

    Any of the Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys books.
    I visited the public library almost every day. These books instilled a love of reading and adventure.

  259. i just returned from Donald Maass’s workshop on the Emotional Craft of Fiction. If you have the opportunity to attend one of the sessions, do so. Now that heard his talk, I’m going to be forced to reevaluate my WIP in light of what I learned there.

  260. Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell

  261. Auralia’s Colors, my absolute favorite fantasy novel and the book that made me want to write, changed my life because it showed me prose could be beautiful, and it showed me that I could change the world with art. Highly recommend it!

  262. Roald Dahl’s books changed my life. They taught me I don’t have to hide my quirkiness when I write (or even at all) 🙂

  263. To write a powerful motivational fiction story, you need to have the heart, experience, and generosity to share the things that you think can motivate other people.
    Read my blog: Tips on Writing a Powerful Motivational Fiction Story
    Hope this will help, Thank you!


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