Reading as a Writer…

15 12 2009

Weather: High: 26º & sunny. Wind Chill: 13º G’BRR!

After an extended delay and several false starts–BACK TO THE BLOGOSPHERE!

As a writer, that is, one who writes stories and creates worlds,  I find that my reading has suddenly taken on an odd bi-level focus.

I’ve always been a voracious reader. I love books. I REALLY REALLY love books. My husband is threatening to build another wing on the house, just to accommodate my books. Daily packages arrive at our house from Amazon & Alibris, feeding the need for more reading sustenance.

Now, a few years back, I was still reading with one single focus: Reading for pleasure.  I define reading for pleasure as immersing yourself in the story,  both intellectually and emotionally, and when you’re done, you sigh in satisfaction (if it was good) or glare & throw the book across the room (If it was not to your liking- note, I didn’t say it was BAD.) This was the usual procedure. Some books, like the Harry Potter series, would arrive on my doorstep, get ripped from the packaging and get carried off to some quiet room, to be devoured in one marathon sitting. Others would get read piecemeal over a few weeks. (House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is STILL getting pored over, several months along. It’s a really…involved book.  )

But in the past year or so, I’m finding my brain has added a second track of focus when I’m reading.  I still immerse myself in the characters & plots, enjoying or getting annoyed by whatever transpires between the covers. But I’m also finding that there is a little voice, quietly talking in the background.

It’s taking notes. Sort of out loud.

Not so much about characters or plot points, not in an “Oh I SO need to swipe that!” mentality. More like a set designer seeing a play. It’s taking note of STRUCTURE not lines or actors.

The voice says things like “Oh I see how she/he pulled in the world element from the previous book there…” or ” Crap, they shifted perspective in the middle of the scene again –who’s perspective am I supposed to be in now?”

In my own stories, I’m finding lately that I’m getting better at sentence structure, better at clarifying a scene…even managing a decent plot development. Instead of filling my library with writing “How To” books, I’m reading other authors who write similar genres to my own, especially the really good ones.  I’m especially focusing on authors who have a very rich and complicated universe built that encompasses many books.

As writers, especially when we’re first starting out, we sometimes try to find a book or workshop, hoping to stumble across the magical path that will lead us to writing the perfect novel. Like there’s some secret construct or template that the big name authors have access to that gives them that added quality to their writing.

More often than not, I’ve found that most “How To” books directly contradict each other, or rather arrogantly claim to be the “only right way” to get your book written.

After flailing around for a while, I’ve finally realized that the best teachers of form and structure are other writers. It should probably be telling if the authors of the “How To” books haven’t actually written a genre novel, they might not be the best ones to use as a resource.  Granted not every book published is a good example, but the more you read, the better you’ll get the hang of what works, and what doesn’t. It’s not about characters and plots in and of themselves, it’s about WELL DEVELOPED characters and INVOLVING plots.

So, for what’s it worth, I think the best thing a writer can do, when they’re not trying to crank out wordcount or polish their own novels, is read. Read a lot. By a lot of different people. Read outside your genre to get a feel for the different rhythms of plot. Read inside your genre to see what audience you are trying to engage.

Reading is your best teacher.

Now playing: Blackmore’s Night – Ma-O-Tzur
via FoxyTunes




One response

15 12 2009
Knowlton Thomas

Aye, I agree. Reading and writing are married and they each demand (and deserve) plenty of attention.

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