Archive | July, 2011

Why Readers Make Better Writers

21 Jul

Hey guys,

First off, I wanted to apologize for being away. Another blog caught my fancy for awhile, but I’m back!

Today, we’ll be discussing why reading makes your writing better. I touched upon it briefly here but I wanted to do a thorough explanation on my home blog.

When did you first realize you wanted to write? I’ve always been a storyteller myself. The first story I remember constructing was when I moved to my first family home in the first grade. It was a two-hour drive, I think–it might not have been, but being 7 years old in the back of a car can make time stretch on for ages–and while fiddling with my Perfection game set, I built a story about a prince and princess who fell in love, but were split up because the princess was stolen away. A simple concept, but a story nonetheless… and from then on, I was in the storytelling biz. It wasn’t until I became a devoted reader that I realized what medium I wanted to tell my stories in: with words creating sentences that would weave throughout a tapestry of a tale.

But there is a lot more to writing than simply telling a story. We’ve all had the saying pounded into our brains since middle school: SHOW, not TELL. Not only that, but there are things we need to keep in mind: sentence structure, word usage, paragraphical pacing, foreshadowing, analogies. Every character is a story you must write, not just the story itself; the voice you choose to write with is also a character, invisible yet necessary. Stories aren’t just about getting it on paper, just like cooking isn’t just about putting food on a plate.

Yeah, I’m talking about VOICE. That’s what it shakes down to. I realized I wanted to go in depth about voice when I completed two vastly different novels last week. (reading-wise, not writing-wise. I’m certainly not that quick!) One was a steamy action called Dirty Kiss and the other was a YA tale of intrigue and deception known as Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye.

In the case of Eon, the book had a quiet flow to it. Imagine a river: the surface flows but it doesn’t seem that wild, but underneath the gentle pull is a monstrous current. The book plays a lot with flavors and smells to describe people and places. It’s written in the first person, but that fact is easy to forget; it feels more like a limited third-person POV when I think back on it. The book can seem slow at times, but the characters are intriguing and the subtle hints of romance flutter through the novel like specks of dust caught in a sunbeam. The second book is even better so far, but at the time of me writing this, I’m only a little over half finished with the work.

Steamehhhh

In Dirty Kiss, the book is packed with movement. There is always something happening on the surface, be it thoughts flying around our Main’s brain, bombs going off in cars, or Naughty being done in the bedroom. Mystery isn’t the only thing that drives you to turn the page, but the Main’s POV is dripping with personality, the sentences paced as if Cole’s sharing his story over a case of beer out on the beach at night; it feels intimate and almost trusting of the reader, but there is that boundary of clothes and skin and the outdoors keeping us from becoming who Cole is. There is no way time can muddle the fact that first person is the POV of the tale. The beat at which the story is told is fast, and it feels like a lot happens in that short amount of time. The book uses texture/touch a lot–it is a bit of a romance, after all–and color to paint scenes.

Have you thought about what themes you use when you write? For Project Infinite,  I rely on taste and texture, along with a a bit of metaphor. This is part of my voice–the style I write with. But where did I get it from?

I attribute my writing style to the hundred or so authors I’ve read since I was little. I’ve been writing a long time, you see–the first story I wrote was when I was 9, but I had a hefty collection of children books at the time, (A majority of them were Goosebumps,) and I read every single one. By 12, I was swimming in the grown-up stuff: Dean Koontz and VC Andrews (though I find her in the YA section more than anything nowadays) and Anne Rice. My writing benefited. I won an award for a short story I wrote at that age.

Anyway, enough about me! More about why reading is good for the writer’s brain!

I had a writing teacher once say that reading while writing isn’t a great idea because it can taint your work, but I think it’s the opposite for young writers such as us. Wasn’t it reading that inspired us to write in the first place? Writers are like sponges: they soak up all the juices of the world around them. That juice flows through our fingers. It’s the ink of our pens. (Even if we, uh, write on a computer. INK. OF OUR PENS.) What happens if a sponge isn’t soaking things up? When I don’t have a dose of the written word, my spongy self feels dry and rigid. When I try to write that way, sometimes I really stink.

I do agree that there are things we must be cautious about. I haven’t read one time-travel story since I started writing Project Infinite. (Watching, however, has been a major problem for me. I’m a major Doctor Who fan, and can’t risk missing a single episode as it runs. Doctor Who doesn’t influence me as much as it depresses me, but I won’t get into that.) I think it’s important to stay away from stories similar to your own, lest you become a knock-off rather than your own writer. However, reading introduces us to knew ways to flavor our writing. We find fun ways to build our sentences. I don’t attribute my knowledge of grammar to school, because I’m positive I learned the grammar rules I use today from novels I read as a child. That’s why I fudge my grammar so much for the sake of flowing sentences, as improper as it can be sometimes. Anyway, we learn to feel these things from reading. We learn how stories are supposed to taste in our mouths, how the words are supposed to feel as they tumble around in our heads. We learn when to let our readers breathe and when to give them time to catch up, and when to make them run and run and run like their lives depend on it. Just as we learn to talk because of the humans around us, we learn to write because of the books we have on hand.

I do a lot of WFF (Writing For Fun) with other people. (You know, collaborations, role play, etc.) Whenever I felt my writing was becoming repetitive or lazy, I’d dip my writer’s bucket into another writer’s well. Reading recharges my for writing, introduces me to new ways of showing scenes or characters.

Reading helps you find your voice. You can tell when a writer aspiring to be published doesn’t read often–there is something off about their work, something flat or out of place. I had a friend who liked writing, but she didn’t read the entire time I knew her; her stories had no rest stops, no flavor, no texture or smell. I write often with another extremely talented friend of mine and she reads a bunch, and you can see it in her writing. She can knit together simple prose and make her lines sing. Sometimes I have to actually get up and go to her room to tell her how amazing something she wrote was.

Am I saying that only good writers read? No. Bad writers read, and not all good writers do a lot of reading. But I am saying that reading has always helped me and the people I know. If your writing feels dry or stinky, than pick up a book.

PS:
I should note that I cannot read Anne Rice or Shakespeare while I am writing. Something about Anne Rice’s style seriously ruins mine, and something about Shakespeare’s structure messes with my flow. I don’t know, it’s pretty crazy.

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