Weekend Reading Assignment posts feature book recommendations from Undertaker Books staff. These books are short enough to be read in a weekend, but give strong examples of how to execute important skills in writing.

This week’s Weekend Reading Assignment is from D.L. Winchester, recommending Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels.

“But D.L.,” I can already hear you saying, “this isn’t horror!”

You’re right. But it’s a damn good book. And if you’re going to write an epic horror novel, there’s a lot you can take away from it. 

This story of the Battle of Gettysburg is sprawling, with hundreds of characters, subplots, movements, and locations. And yet, somehow, Shaara never makes you feel lost as you read it. Everything is laid out in a way that the average reader can follow as they move through the three days of the battle, from the opening skirmishing at the seminary to the aftermath of Pickett’s charge into the Union center.

So what should you be considering when you read it?

  1. Organization is vital

The reason The Killer Angels works as well as it does is that Shaara limits the story to the viewpoint of a few characters. Even though you see the whole battle, Shaara tells the story through a limited number of characters who are where he needs them to be to show the pivotal moments of the battle.

  1. Don’t be afraid to use visuals

Shaara makes excellent use of maps to show the battleground. It’s a simple thing, but it helps the reader to visualize what they are reading. Taking a world from your head and communicating it to a reader is hard. Using visuals like maps can make that easier. 

  1. Characters can power a story

Everyone who’s taken middle school history knows what happened at the Battle of Gettysburg. The Yankees won, and the Confederate army was never the same again. But the reason this book is so fantastic is the way it brings the characters to life. The characters are your window into the battle, and Shaara wrote them as well as any characters I’ve ever read. And it’s not just the main characters. Every character in the book helps carry the story forward, and even though you know the outcome, The Killer Angels is still a pleasure to read.

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