This is the first post of authors that have inspired me or influence my writing. First up, JRR Tolkien.
Before I get started, let me get one thing out-of-the-way: the overall story arc of The Lord of the Rings is fairly predictable. Let’s face it. Does anyone have any doubt after chapter two that somehow the ring is going to be destroyed? By the time we get through the council of Elrond, is there any question that Frodo will make it to Mordor or that Sauron will be defeated? I suppose that is an occupational hazard of writing an adventure quest with a specific goal. But why then does this story have probably millions of fans (including me)?
Lesson number one for me is that the journey is perhaps more important than the destination. There are of course important caveats to this statement. But it can still be compelling fiction even if the final goal is known from the beginning. Because who would have guessed the fall of Gandalf, or the roles that Gollem, Merry or Pippen played in story?
Lesson number two is that the book needs to take you to a place you want to go. Tolkien spent decades building a world that his readers can literally get lost in. It is so rich, so expansive, that readers are completely drawn in. And when I read it, I can’t help but get the feeling that this is just a tiny window into a world that is so much larger than could possibly be described in the book. It is very clear that he believed in it. I think the world is so real to us, because it was so real to him.
Lesson number three is that the climax is not the end. I have mentioned before that this is a pet peeve of mine. Many authors I have read would have had Gollem fall into Mt. Doom, and then write an epilogue that said, Aragorn was crowned king, Frodo and Sam went home, and they all lived happily ever after, the end. While this would have been okay, how much more satisfying it is to have the houses of healing, the scouring of the Shire, and the Grey Havens. Also, it is significant to know that while there was a general happily ever after, there were harmful consequences of the conflict that did not just disappear as soon as it was resolved.
It seems obvious to me that Tolkien did not simply write, he created. And he did so for the sheer love of creation. That is why his story is classic.