During my teenage years, when I really started to read a lot, three authors stood out as my favorites: Stephen King, John Irving, and Pat Conroy. Here's one of the many things I learned from each novelist that I try to apply to my writing every day:
I learned from Stephen King that if you create real and likable characters, you can put them into any situation (and I mean ANY). I fell in love with his stories because of the people, not because of the terror unleashed on them.
I learned from John Irving a quote he once said regarding his characters: "What's the worst thing that can happen?" I also saw the power of an ending. A Prayer For Owen Meany is one of my favorite novels, and it all builds to that ending. I learned from Pat Conroy that it's okay to take experiences from your own life and put them into a fictitious form. That it can be healing in a certain way. I also learned the power and the beauty of language.
As a novelist, I'm probably closest to King in terms of writing style. I tried to write my Pat Conroy novel but realized I can't construct language like The Prince of Tides (very few can). I tried to write my epic Irving-esque coming-of-age Owen Meany story but failed again. That's okay. At least I tried.
These three authors were my favorites during those informative teen years. I still have all their works on the shelves behind me. I admire the work they've done, the highs and the lows of their careers. I often pick out my favorite novels they've written to read sections, simply to admire the writing and to see how it was done. And to try and see if I can continue to learn a little something from it.