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What The Hobbit Taught Me About Writing

the hobbitUnless you have been living in a hobbit hole, you probably know J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous novel, The Hobbit,  has been adapted for film and is coming out this Christmas season. If you’re a die hard Tolkien fan, you may have already bought your tickets for the midnight show (I haven’t, but I did make plans to see the Friday matinée).

The Hobbit is one of the best selling books of all time, selling over 100 million copies since it was published in 1937. Needless to say, every writer, regardless of their genre, can learn from it.

My first experience with The Hobbit was when I was seven. My father read the book to me aloud, and I still remember laughing about the silly trolls who want to eat Bilbo, but who get turned to stone by the sun.

Here are five serious (and not so serious) lessons from The Hobbit.

1. Write with Whimsy

Trolls simply detest the very sight of dwarves (uncooked).

I like to think of The Hobbit as a children’s book written for adults. So much of modern life, including what we read online and in books, is serious. Sometimes, we need reminders to be a little whimsical.

Every time you put the pen to the page, you have the opportunity to take readers on a strange, funny, magical ride and remind them there is more to life than productivity, competition, and being a “responsible” adult.

2. Use Exclamation Points

“Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!” So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter.

Writers are often told not to use exclamation points. I read an article recently that said you only have two or three exclamation points per 100 pages, so you’d better make them count.

Clearly, these writers haven’t read The Hobbit, which is filled to the brim with exclamation points. I’m not saying you should revise your Romance novel and put in a dozen exclamation marks per page, but if someone tells you you’re using too many, tell them to go read The Hobbit.

3. Write Like People Talk

This is a story of how a Baggins had an adventure, found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected. He may have lost the neighboursí respect, but he gained—well, you will see whether he gained anything in the end.

What I love about The Hobbit is that it feels like Tolkien is sitting beside your bed, telling you a fairy tale to help you sleep. The narrator is right there with you, clearly enjoying the story as much as you are.

When you’re in school, you should write formal prose with complete sentences and all the proper punctuation. When you’re writing fiction, though, you’re not writing for your teachers. You’re telling a story. Avoid sounding too formal, if you can.

4. Include a Few Monsters

Is it nice, my preciousss? Is it juicy? Is it scrumptiously crunchable?

Every story is better with a monster, don’t you think?

5. Take the Reader on an Adventure

There are no safe paths in this part of the world. Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now, and in for all sorts of fun wherever you go.

I appreciate literary fiction, with it’s thoughtful, realistic stories and insights into the human condition. But sometimes you just need a good adventure. The Hobbit reminds us that adventure is just a moment away if you have the right attitude.

In honor of The Hobbit, let’s practice writing a good adventure story today.

When did you first read The Hobbit? What did you learn from it?

PRACTICE

Write a short scene for fifteen minutes inspired by The Hobbit. There should be at least one dwarf, elf, wizard, or hobbit involved.

When you’re time is up, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, please be sure to comment on a few pieces by other writers.

Have fun!

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

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  • B.D. Knight

    Loved this article. I read lots of books on how to write but find myself breaking rules and wondering whether I should reconsider doing so. It’s nice to read something occasionally that tells you to use your own voice and have fun writing.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      I think you should follow the rules except when you make a conscious decision not to, and those choices are all about voice and having fun. Writing can be a lot of work, but if you don’t give yourself room to make it fun, you probably aren’t being creative enough.

      • http://www.facebook.com/yvette.carol Yvette Carol

        Hear! Hear!

      • http://www.pjreece.ca/blog/wordpress/category/blog PJ Reece

        Or is it the other way around? There are no rules until the first draft looks predictably like hell… then it’s time to check the rule book. I guess it depends on where one is in their career. Hopefully as we progress we unconsciously adopt principles that make the writing job more efficient. I dont’ know. The more I study writing, the more I’m sure I don’t really know. What a life.

        • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

          I like it that way, too!

  • nevillegirl

    Awesome post! I’d tried to read The Hobbit several times and finally read it through all the way this October. Now I’m trying to finish the trilogy before I go see the movie… I love his writing.

    Aaaaand I’ll write my short scene in a bit…

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Glad you made it through. Wasn’t it a fun read?

      Thanks!

  • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

    Wow. This makes me want to read the Hobbit again. I’m going to see if there is an illustrated version (like the kind I read in Middle School) on Amazon.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Yes! That would be awesome.

      The only illustrated book I have is The Brother’s Karamazov, which I obviously didn’t read in middle school.

      • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

        Found one. Tolkien actually illustrated it himself.

        • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

          No way! That sounds incredible.

  • http://twitter.com/JasonZiebart Jason Ziebart

    Thank you for Rules 1 and 3. Unfortunately, I’m one who has to demand formality when I’d rather have some whimsy and “normal talk.” I was in college the first time I read The Hobbit. After seeing The Fellowship of the Ring, I knew I had to read them all, so I started at the beginning. I skipped class and called in sick to work just to keep reading. For the record, I can’t say I really condone this behavior.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Ha! Don’t tell your students. :)

      Joe Bunting
      joebunting.com

    • http://www.facebook.com/yvette.carol Yvette Carol

      Your secret’s safe with us!

  • mariannehvest

    Flora looked at her feet. They were lovely, covered with silky red hair, and just the right size and shape.

    Flora was thirteen, and went to a human school. Her parents had elected to send her to public school because they felt that home schooling her, like most hobbit parent’s did, would deprive her of an important part of the modern world, specifically she would miss seeing how human’s were are children, she would miss seeing how humans grow and develop. Flora’s parent’s thought that if she did see them grow and develop she would be better able to understand them, better able to understand how they ran the modern world.

    Flora had been accepted by the girls at the school. She was abnormally small but they didn’t seem to mind because she was quick and funny and could draw hilarious manga cartoons.

    As she looked at her feet though, she worried. She had been invited to a birthday party for Shelly, the most popular girl the class, and the party included a pedicure. Flora always wore shoes to school. Her mother told her she had lovely feet but she had seen the other girls in sandals and she was fairly sure they wouldn’t think her feet were lovely. She wondered if she should shave the hair off of her feet, and even if she did that there was still the problem of the soles of her feet which were flat and thick and calloused.

    • http://www.facebook.com/yvette.carol Yvette Carol

      Yes, Marianne, that’s the way to make fantasy believable– for the characters to have emotions we can all relate to.

      • mariannehvest

        I do hate it when there is a wedding for my young relatives and they all want to go get pedicures, not just because I no longer have pretty young feet but because the whole process is weird to me. Gives me the creeps.

    • http://thethoughtfulbuttonhook.wordpress.com/ Kate Hewson

      I like how you brought your hobbit into the modern world!

      • mariannehvest

        Thanks Kate

    • http://www.facebook.com/zoe.dyer Zoe Beech

      Oh my, that lovely silky red toe hair…Hilarious!!

      • mariannehvest

        Thank you Zoe.

    • plumjoppa

      I like how you give her a hobbit-ish insecurity that any teenage girl could still relate to, and the specific detail of the manga cartoons.

      • mariannehvest

        Thanks plumjoppa. It was fun to write.

  • Bernard

    (I should probably apologise in advance – but see how many Middle Earth characters you can find)

    The wizard walked into the kitchen and, picking up a hot pastry from the top of the hob, bit into it with great gusto. “This wretched war for Middle Earth will be the end of us all,” he cried to the assembled company.

    The Men standing around the dining table nodded their heads in agreement, unable to speak themselves because their mouths were stuffed full with the delicious fare that had been prepared by their hostess, Lady Tunniel. From his vantage point at the far end of the room, Frodo took in the scene.

    “Can we win this war, or can we not?” he asked.

    Gandalf was passionate: “If we all work together, then ‘tis possible, but otherwise it will drag on and become global.”

    “Roger that,” said Frodo, paying no attention to any anachronisms that might be creeping in…

    • http://thethoughtfulbuttonhook.wordpress.com/ Kate Hewson

      I really need to do some more reading…I can count 5 names…unless Roger is one, in which case that makes 6, haha. I don;t suppose Roger is one though, not when the others all have mystical names.

      • Bernard

        Sorry, folks, you’ve missed it. The important point about Lady Tunniel’s name is the last two letters, followed by the first letter of the next word …

        • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

          Good one Bernard. :)

        • http://thethoughtfulbuttonhook.wordpress.com/ Kate Hewson

          Too clever for me Bernard…

    • mariannehvest

      I only know Frodo and Gandalf. Lady Tunniel I do not remember, but I read this stuff in the seventies.

  • Shane McGowan

    Bluish (blweesh) tramped through the forest, down in the dumps, would he never see the iridescent wings of Dondell ever again. She was the most loving person he had ever known and he missed her dreadfully.

    Things had been going so well, she even started walking so they could talk, really talk about important stuff like the state of the acorn economy and the noises coming from the valley of Baca. The other creatures of the forest heard but had no opinion. They saw the price of acorns being decimated by the andricus quercuscalicis and did nothing.

    Bluish had heard some of the stompers talking about the gall wasps as they smashed peoples’ homes with their oversized boots. They called them the andricus so Bluish followed them listening intently as he panted heavily, running to catch up with them. He heard the full name and something about eggs and larvae. It was freakishly scary stuff.

    Dondell and he were going to quest to Baca to see if the noises were related to the acorn crisis. She had fluttered over as far as the path that led to the Behovar Nestle but had come back terrified by the noise. She held Bluish’s hand as she recounted the flyover and they agreed to trek together.

    Tell-tale Narchy told on them. Not only was it forbidden for dwarves and fairies to be friends, but for Dondell to be seen holding the hand and embracing the squat ugly figure of Bluish, it was against every law in the forest. Her parents had brought them in front of the Council and she was banished for a period of twelve full moons and they were barred from fraternising ever. They tried desperately to explain, well they couldn’t explain the attraction, Bluish didn’t understand it himself, but that was love, a mystery. No, they tried to tell them about the wasps and the noises and the stompers but each time they spoke the full council “Nay! nay!” -ed them so their voices were drowned in a sea of negativity.

    For days and weeks he tramped in the forest, alone, snapping the twigs beneath his feet instead of side stepping the insects’ homes. Bereft, he racked his brain as to what to do, he needed Dondell’s quicker mind to sort this out. What if’s struggled to come together until today.

    As he walked he suddenly stopped tramping and began walking with purpose. He was going to do it alone, he was going to Baca. With no supplies or other thoughts in his head he adjusted his course to the valley of Baca. He began to whistle a tune that Dondell would sing to him in the eventide as the sun set in the west on their last evening together and he gathered speed, he was driven to get to the path.

    Being Dwarven it took him a long time to get to the path to Behovar Nestle, he ate wee roots and leaves of plants he knew well and took handfuls of water as he passed streams. The path looked long and lonely, on each side were blackened trees, long dead and with no foliage but he started grinning, a stupid big goofy grin because he could also see the rainbow opalescence of Dondell’s wings.

    “Finally,” she said

    • http://www.facebook.com/yvette.carol Yvette Carol

      Shane, you’ve got a good grip on fantasy writing there. You a children’s writer?

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Suzie-Gallagher/100001281206171 Suzie Gallagher

        thanks Yvette

    • http://thethoughtfulbuttonhook.wordpress.com/ Kate Hewson

      I love all the stuff about her wings…it’s beautiful!

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Suzie-Gallagher/100001281206171 Suzie Gallagher

        thanks Kate

    • plumjoppa

      What grabbed me here is that you included a lot of background story, and introduced a lot of characters while still keeping the story moving ahead and very engaging!

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Suzie-Gallagher/100001281206171 Suzie Gallagher

        thanks Plum

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Suzie-Gallagher/100001281206171 Suzie Gallagher

      Hi this was mine, I couldn’t log in and was listening to The Pogues, again. You can’t get through December without hearing them at least once a day, so posted as Shane.

      Just in case y’all don’t Pogues morning noon and night in the States – here just for you

      http://youtu.be/HwHyuraau4Q

      • http://thethoughtfulbuttonhook.wordpress.com/ Kate Hewson

        hehe, i thought the name was familiar…..

  • http://twitter.com/elramey debra elramey

    I read The Hobbit way back when, and again recently to compare it to the new movie. Love that tale! And love your take on it here too!

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Thanks Debra!

  • http://www.facebook.com/yvette.carol Yvette Carol

    I read The Lord of the Rings after reading The Hobbit, as a pre-teen. I loved them right away. Now, in hindsight, knowing that they’re based on Nordic mythology
    and the completely amazing Viking stories (like the Laxdoela Saga) which Tolkien was a fan of, I understand my fascination. My father said he’d tried to read them as a young boy but had found them too complex. However, my parents wanted to see each of the movies, so dad borrowed all the books off me and read them a few years ago. He became a convert at that stage! I personally think Peter Jackson is a genius, and I’m not just saying that because as a Kiwi, I’m biased. I’ve seen each of the movies on the big screen and I’ve promised myself to see The Hobbit movies (of which I believe there will also be three) on the big screen as well. The movie starts here in N.Z. on the 12th so I can’t wait to see it in 3-D!!! Yay

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      I didn’t know that, Yvette. That’s very cool. Hope you enjoy the film. Don’t give anything away, okay? :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/zoe.dyer Zoe Beech

      how was the movie? it also just came to SA yesterday… I’m keen to see it!!

  • http://thethoughtfulbuttonhook.wordpress.com/ Kate Hewson

    I was given The Hobbit as a child, but didn’t read it, much to the surprise of a lot of my friends now, because it is right up my street! Bought the Kindle verison today, and really loving it. I could have written pages and pages for this practice…had to kind of stop abruptly…(apologies for spelling mistakes, I’m on night duty)
    There was an afternoon late one spring when a troll unexpectedly came to have Afternoon Tea with a wizard.
    The troll hadn’t intended to take tea at all – Afternoon Tea is a delicate refined affair, much unsuited to the particularties of a troll. Supper was more his thing – a hearty meal slurped straight from a bowl and soaked up with big chunks of bread.
    It was a warm and sunny afternoon. He had been merrily stomping through a hitherto quiet little village, bashing through doors and smashing windows, collecting unwilling dwarfs and hobbits with which to make a stew. In a bag over his shoulder he carried a growing collection of them. They were unusually still; some had frozen with fear and others had passed right out and were happily oblivious to their impending doom.
    The Wizards house was much like the others in the village – small and slightly crooked, but brightly painted and cosy looking. So imagine the trolls surprise when the door was opened just as he was about to put his fist through it, and who should be standing there but a smiling little old man with silver hair in a long grey robe.
    The Wizard carried a long staff. He waved it in a casual manner in the general direction of the troll, who sucummed almost imediately to a severe bout of amnesia.
    “My dear boy!” cried the wizard, “You are here at last! I have a pot of tea and a plate of hot buttered crumpets waiting for you in the drawing room! Not to mention a rather delicious spiced apple cake that I made just this morning! Won’t you come in?”
    The troll, who could not recall at all who he was or why he was there, managed to mutter “Er…” before finding himself being divested of his coat and hat and being ushered into the little hallway.
    “Thats the fellow!” said the wizard congenialy, “Now why don’t you put down that bag of yours, it looks frightfully heavy!”
    The troll looked with surprise at the bag as if noticing it for the first time. It WAS rather heavy, now the wizard came to mention it, and he was very glad to heave it off his shoulder and onto the carpetted floor of the hallway (much to the relief of its contents who set about planning their escape).
    The wizard took the troll through to a curiously floral drawing room, where afternoon tea had been set on the table. A steaming teapot sat amongst plates of sweet and savoury delights. The troll sat rather awkwardly on a chair that was much too small for him and attempted to take tea. It wasn’t easy at all! The china cups were much too dainty for his huge unweildy fingers, the tea not sufficient to slake his thirst, and the sandwiches (cucumber, crusts removed) did not satisfy the hunger in his belly. Added to which the wizard kept up a stream of endless chatter that the troll could not keep up with and which prevented him from having the time to just think for a moment why he was here.
    All too soon he found himself being hurried back out into the street with an empty belly and an equally empty bag.
    “Goodbye then!” called the wizard, “No need to thank me for having you, the pleasure was all mine! Mind how you go!” and he banged the door shut.
    The troll stood for a moment staring at the door, trying to work out in his befuddled brain how he came to have had tea with a wizard. But as it made his head hurt to think about, he decided to let the matter rest. He stumbled out of the village in a distracted way with a puzzled frown on his face, and was never seen again.

    • http://www.facebook.com/zoe.dyer Zoe Beech

      Kate, this is Great! I can see everything so clearly – especially the dwarves in the bag frozen with fear and the big troll sitting in the tiny chair. Also great tone, fits perfectly. :)

      • http://thethoughtfulbuttonhook.wordpress.com/ Kate Hewson

        Thanks Zoe!

    • plumjoppa

      This is wonderfully Hobbit inspired! I also just read the Hobbit for the first time.

      • http://thethoughtfulbuttonhook.wordpress.com/ Kate Hewson

        Thanks! Yeah, isn’t it a great book? I can’t think why I haven’t read it before!

    • mariannehvest

      I love this, the details and pacing are great, but most of all I am taken by the British tone that really enchants me and makes it easy for me to feel like the troll, taken by surprise and charmed out of my usual day. I love “hitherto”, “mind how you go”, and just the way you can fit all that stuff together. I’m going to look up crumpets now. I wonder if I can make them myself.

      • http://thethoughtfulbuttonhook.wordpress.com/ Kate Hewson

        thanks Marianne! I found a crumpet recipe for you http://britishfood.about.com/od/eorecipes/r/Recipe-Traditional-English-Crumpets.htm I have never tried making them because they are cheap to buy from the shop. I like them toasted till they are crisp on the outside and dripping with salty butter, and sometimes honey too…now I’m drooling…

        • mariannehvest

          I am going to try them. I didn’t know they got bubbly.

    • http://twitter.com/JewelsCat Giulia Esposito

      Oh, I love this! Well done! I read Tolkien years ago and can’t remember a word of Lord of Rings (I never read The Hobbit, though I saw the movie) but your story does remind me of something else I’ve read I can’t quite put my finger on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/zoe.dyer Zoe Beech

    The forest was in a state. The Goolbodies had traipsed through just yesterday, leaving their usual ugly marks of ownership. The trees shook bony fingers at the scars oozing sap . The stream hissed over the rocks, trying in vain to rid itself of the layer of orange slime that flowed downstream. And the bickering of the squirrels was heard on the top of the Ever Mountain, two mountains away.

    And then Feeli stepped into the forest. The ground shook with the calm of her white feet and everything fell into silence. The stream’s hisses turned into murmurs of joy. She turned towards the fractured bark and orange slime on the road and a tiny line broke the harmony of her face.

    ‘We have lots to do,’ she said. ‘We must hurry.’

    • plumjoppa

      I’m drawn in by the descriptions that tug at the senses, especially the orange slime and white feet.

      • http://www.facebook.com/zoe.dyer Zoe Beech

        Thanks for the feedback, always appreciated.

    • http://thethoughtfulbuttonhook.wordpress.com/ Kate Hewson

      This is awesome!! You’ve described everything so well, I can really picture all the sounds and sights!

      • http://www.facebook.com/zoe.dyer Zoe Beech

        Thanks Kate!!

    • mariannehvest

      What a beautiful series of images. Are you going to write more about this? I would love to read more.

      • http://www.facebook.com/zoe.dyer Zoe Beech

        thanks Marianne! I didn’t think about that, I actually struggle a lot with sci-fi, but glad to hear it worked well. I’ve been reading a lot of non-descriptive lit, and recently my writing has shown that, but the description from this piece rose up and demanded to be written!! ;)

    • Lis

      I enjoyed the imagination you put into describing the scenery.

      • http://www.facebook.com/zoe.dyer Zoe Beech

        Thanks Lis! :)

    • http://twitter.com/JewelsCat Giulia Esposito

      Really beautiful, this sucked me in. I like the descripition of the fractured bark and orange slime the best.

  • Claudia

    Wakened by an unknown sound, Juicy remained motionless where she had slept behind a bolder under the overhang high above the creek. Although she was invisible wrapped in the gray deerskin and hidden under leaves and twigs she knew better than to move. Only quiet forest noises came to her. After ten heartbeats and a long silent exhale, she centered herself. Breathe in, three, four, five. Breathe out, three, four, five. She began her mantra of controlled breathing. Lying with rocks starting to grow out of the ground under your ribcage takes concentration and patience. Six breaths, one minute. Twelve. Eighteen. Raising the deerskin a finger-heighth, she sniffed the outside air. Dwarf! </i

    • plumjoppa

      Love the name “Juicy” as it was the name my daughter gave to her beloved stuffed dog that had many adventures, and eventually disappeared after a fateful trip to the playground. In response to your earlier post, I usually write for 15 minutes with critic/editor turned off. But then have to admit to going back and cleaning things up a bit before posting.

  • Claudia

    Fifteen minutes. no way. You’d get one maybe two sentences from me. Do you guys really only write for fifteen minutes? no way.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      I’m super slow, Claudia. When I post, it’s two or three short paragraphs at most.

      • Claudia

        whew. I do know I have to turn off the critic/editor more often and just write bad sentences, fix later.

        • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

          Yes. That always helps. :)

  • Lis

    As hobbits do take great pleasure in a fine wardrobe, the old hobbit took to stepping inside his large closet. With pleasure he surveyed all the earthy tones and fabrics, to find just the thing he might be looking for. But to which socks he should give the honor of going with his deep burgundy canvas pants and sunset orange top, he did not know.

    Just then a marvelous idea came to mind. A game! I’ll make it a game! He piled all 33 pairs of socks — losing a few to gravity of course, and stood in the middle of the room. I’ll throw them up in the air , and whichever lands closest to me… I will wear. This he did and looked down to see a most splendid turn of events. Two pairs had tied. So being the honest and fair hobbit he was, he did the right thing — he wore one of each.

    • MajickCheez

      Wonderful…sounds just like the Hobbit.

      • Lis

        Thanks so much. I had a lot of fun with that writing promt.

  • MajickCheez

    UGH! I keep trying to write a quaint, whimsical adventure story like the Hobbit, but nothing is coming out right. I keep trying to accomodate cool little homes like hobbit holes that I made up, but I don’t know how, and the characters I want to be animals, like in Redwall, and the main plot just sounds like a failure of a Hobbit wannabe. How do you guys do it? How did Tolkien do it?

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      I hear you, Majick. It isn’t easy, especially if you want to be original. If it helps, remember that Tolkien spent years and years inventing the world of The Hobbit before he published a single story involving it. No need to rush yourself. Take it slow and easy and invent for the pleasure of it. Oh and tea and pipes might not hurt. ;) Best of luck.

    • http://twitter.com/JewelsCat Giulia Esposito

      Majick, I’m with you, this would be incredibly hard for me as well. I’d have to think about it for a while first.

  • Por mais uma.

    The Hobbit was the book that made me think about writting and reading. It was because of it that I really started to read books, I started to love it. I couldn’t agree more with you about those topics.