Almost every advice out there tell aspiring writers they should read a lot. But the key is not really devouring as many books as possible, but making the reading into a lesson: studying plots, characterization, even the style. There’s much more to reading as a writer than it is to reading as a book lover, and even though writers mostly enjoy reading as much as any other bookworm, aside from entertainment, good story, and food for thought, we have other reasons to read too.
Root out the not-so-unique ideas
When you have an idea for a romance between an angel and a human or a group of adventurers’ journey to the Bottomless Pit of Cliches to destroy a Generic Artifact, it will only seem fresh and unique if you haven’t read many books in your genre. You can assume that any great book out there have inspired multiple more and less original copies, and although there’s nothing wrong with inspiration or picking a popular theme, knowing the most used tropes in the genre will help to shape a story that avoids the pitfalls of mindless imitation.
Learn the rules
Every genre has its little quirks, the do-s and don’t-s, and even though it’s not necessary to always follow the rules (quite to the contrary, some great works blossomed from trying out new things), knowing they exist and how they function within the genre will not only allow to bend (or break) them, but will also help to understand what genre readers expect from a book.
Get the ideas
Reading within one’s genre not only can help recognize the cliches, but also supports coming up with new, original ideas. Many good ideas are tweaks or opposites of the old ones, and reading about lush, interesting settings definitely enhances imagination and helps brain to come up with exciting images that in the future will become equally exciting stories. Sometimes a sentence or a scene in a book might bring unexpected idea that will grow into a plot or into an interesting character.
Study the style
If while you’re reading, you’re not stopping every once a while to ponder a stylistic trick, an interesting choice of words, or an original metaphor, you might be doing it wrong. Of course, sometimes the story is just too good and the sentences flow carrying us through the scenes, but every once a while something will give the writer a pause. Sometimes it’s a good pause of amusement or amazement, of a linguistic fascination or reflection on how well a character was portrayed in less than a paragraph, and sometimes it’s crunching over the grammar rules and figuring out odd wording. Both are useful for a writer: we learn how to do things and what to avoid.
Remember why you write
Most of the writers are avid readers: they’ve started writing because they enjoyed reading the stories and wanted to share their own. But writing is much more difficult and time consuming than reading, so it’s nice to remind oneself of the end goal: of enjoying the story hidden within the words.
Did I miss something? Are there any other reasons for writers to read? Why do you read? What do you take from your chosen reading?
This Post Has 12 Comments
No… I think you’ve covered all the bases. I can always tell the writing students who HAVEN’T read much in their genre – they deliver a bog-standard idea with huge excitement, thinking they’re the first to write something like this. And it always surprises me how many very new writers simple don’t read. And if they don’t take my advice to do so, their work never goes on improving.
I can relate, I see it around in the online groups. Someone gets very excited about their idea, and I quietly list all the classic and modern titles that had already explored it in so many away.
What amuses me more though is that aspiring writers believe it’s enough to just read. Sure, they read three or five times the books I read, but they never apply the analytical skills to their reading. What’s good in reading as a writer when one can’t take out any lessons from it?
Helpful post. I love when I come across a new word I need to look up and Kindle makes it so easy to find a definition. Great for increasing a writer’s lexicon.
Thank your for visiting and you have a good point, Rae! I love learning new words too, especially with English being my second language.
Though I do need to look them up online because I only own an old model of e-reader (Nook).
I love to do that too, although so far most of the words I’ve had to look up are french or latin, so it also broadens your linguistic mind.
I have to admit that I should read more books about dragons, am severely lacking in that aspect, but when a story is well written, it feels right and I try to aim for that.
I think any book can enhance your writing skills: even a bad one (unless you’re reading only bad ones 😉 ).
That pretty much covers it, I’d say.
It’s all important, but I also pay particular attention to things that I know I find difficult. For example, I try to make note on pacing whenever I read, both when it’s good and when it’s poor.
Yes, pacing is important too. I always say it’s better to learn on somebody else’s mistakes than my own ;).
Very timely post. Lately, I’ve been trying to read more deliberately from the perspective of a writer. It’s definitely been an eye opener to think about how others craft their stories as opposed to just reading them for enjoyment.
Thank you, Ellen! Funny enough, I found that I have problems enjoying the story if one of the aspects of the craft is missing. Too much of a writer’s eye now. 😉
You definitely covered all the most important reasons why a writer should be also a reader – a lovely post, thank you.