HOW DOES READING HELP YOU WRITE BETTER? – TUESDAY WRITING TIP

Some time ago, I wrote a post about editing and mentioned how reading Steph Bowe‘s, Girl Saves Boy helped me find my ‘character’s voice’. Just reading someone else’s words can spark great ideas and can help you identify the weaknesses in your own work.

I know some writers who refuse to read books in the same genre they are writing because they don’t want to be influenced by them or seen to be copying, but as well as showing you better techniques, reading someone else’s work can spark gems of creative brilliance and give you something great to aspire to.

I’m currently writing a survival story about a tween and a teen stranded in the Australian outback. I travelled Australia for almost two years in tents with my husband, the family dog and two toddlers, so the outback setting  for TEXT ME WHEN YOU GET THERE is very familiar to me.

But I wanted this book to be more than just an action packed read – I wanted it to leave the reader with a strong sense of setting, the strength of the human spirit and a connection to the characters. Even though I had the plot figured out, I knew there were still many layers to be added.

So I went back to read other survival stories for kids/YA. I pored again through Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (an old favourite) and Wendy Orr‘s wonderful new survival story, Raven’s Mountain. Both novels are set in an area that I’m totally unfamiliar with yet they still managed to make me feel as if I was actually there fighting for my life against the obstacles the characters were facing.

Reading both these great books again and thinking about how they were crafted, helped me identify the following weaknesses in my own manuscript:

  1. Main character doesn’t make enough observations about himself – this would help reader see how he grows throughout the story.
  2. Compare the outback setting more to his home – this will help reader connect with how out of his depth the character is in his new surroundings. Make observations about the things that aren’t there as well as the things that are.
  3. Use road signs to identify where the MC is for the reader.
  4. The MC is stuck in life-threatening situations without any adults present. Give him permission to do risky things that parents wouldn’t want him doing because that’s how they are going to survive – perhaps he keeps hearing Mum’s voice in his head. Jack and his sister are on their own so they would be more introspective – nobody to talk to except each other and when they fight, they would have nobody left to talk to.
  5. Apart from fear of outback hazards like dingos, snakes etc, there would also be phobias that kids might experience in a normal environment like fear of the dark.
  6. Need more sensory detail in terms of smells and taste.
  7. More description needed about physical state and injuries.
  8. Need more lighter scenes where kids are mucking around like they would at home – this will help add tension to the darker moments.

This is just a hint of the improvements to my manuscript that were inspired by reading Gary and Wendy’s books. I haven’t included specifics because I didn’t want to give away too much of the story.

But hopefully this will help you see that reading other books isn’t copying what other writers do. It can generate ideas and teach you things about your work in progress and the way you write.

I’d love to hear about books you have read that inspired you to write better. Feel free to leave your comments at the end of this post.

Next week at Tuesday Writing Tips we’re looking at how Critiquing Can Help You Write Better. Hope you can join us then.

Happy Writing:)

Dee

P.S. the pics for this post are from our “Around Australia trip” Hope you enjoy them.

Here are another couple I just had to include for the ‘cute’ factor even though they have no relevance to the story. Pic 1 is camping at Hogwash Bend. Pic 2 is with a baby kangaroo at Oodnadatta.

Here’s one last one I had to include of a Goanna who used to drop in every afternoon to play with the boy’s Lego.

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15 thoughts on “HOW DOES READING HELP YOU WRITE BETTER? – TUESDAY WRITING TIP

  1. Amazing photos Dee. Would love to see more – and your babies are sooo cute!

    I don’t think I could list the books that have inspired me to write. I think I’ve probably taken away something from everything I’ve ever read, though I must admit, certain writers inspire me… Maurice Gleitzman and Emily Gravett are just two of many.

    I totally agree with you that being inspired is not copying… each and every inspired moment is as unique as the person writing it. I think reading other people’s work and feeling inspired is vital to writing well.

    x

  2. Thanks, Tania,

    My eldest baby is 5ft 10 now…sigh…where did the time go:)

    I love that line, “each and every inspired moment is as unique as the person writing it”. I must admit I look at reading as a form of brainstorming. Reading sparks ideas – the only difference is that you don’t get feedback from it like you would if you tossed your ideas around with another writer.

    Hope your writing is going well.

    Dee x

  3. Hey Dee

    Now that is an angle I never considered before – and one I am going to try now. I tend to read the same genre that I am writing, but steer clear of anything that looks/reads remotely similar in place – but you have such valid points in your blog. I will definitely try it out and see what happens.

    Thanks as always for a wonderfully helpful blog.

    Bye 4 now
    Tina
    PS Good luck with your survival story – sounds interesting and can’t wait for it to be in print so I can read it!

  4. I love the list you used to improve your manuscript, Dee. I reckon lots of those things would improve most of our stories!
    Especially when the setting is so important to the plot – or when the setting is like another character. 😛
    PS Gorgeous photos!

  5. Hi Dee

    Thanks for this fascinating post. I love the way you’ve demonstrated your insights learned in relation to your WIP. I totally believe in the value of reading in the area you write. When I read something that works to stunning effect, I always ask myself, how did the writer achieve that? And vice-versa when it doesn’t.

    I’m reading heaps, both written and/or set, in the era I’m writing – both fiction and non-fiction. I read fiction to see how the writer has achieved mood, weaving of historic detail (or not) through the narrative, and particularly in books written in the day to learn how people spoke and acted within the limits of their time and society. (Yet try to keep mine contemporary enough to be palatable to today’s readers.) I’ve found every book is written with such a different voice and structure, I don’t feel in any danger of copying a style or voice. I don’t know if it helped me feel more confident that I didn’t start reading the fiction until the voice in my novel was firmly established. Possibly a key to free writers of such concerns.

    🙂 Chris
    PS: The photos are gorgeous. Your trip must have been amazing and will no doubt lend a subconscious authenticity to your writing too.

  6. Thanks, Sheryl,

    I couldn’t resist the ‘cute’ pics. I found them when I was going through the photos looking for setting for my story. You’re right, setting is like another character:)

    Dee

  7. Hi Chris,

    Thanks for dropping in and sharing your comments on what you read and why you read it:) It was an amazing trip. Would love to go again, but I think we might need a bigger car and tents this time:)

    Dee

  8. Great post Dee. I think it’s really important for writers to read in their own genre. Apart from the reasons you’ve outlned above, most publishers/agents expect you to know what’s already out in the marketplace similar to yours. A big part of marketing a book is knowing where to place it, and, although this shouldn’t be a writer’s first consideration, I think it’s important for them to know what’s already out there. All artists can learn from the masters that have gone before them 🙂

  9. Thanks, Maree,

    That’s true – and it’s something I hadn’t even considered in my post – we need to know where our work fits in the marketplace so reading in our genre is helpful for that too.

    Happy writing:)

    Dee:)

  10. Hi Dee,
    Nice post. And very cute photos. Loved the lego playing goanna too!

    I tend to read a lot of non-fiction when I’m in the middle of writing something. I’m not sure why. It ebbs and flows a bit for me. Sometimes i can’t read people I really admire as it paralyses me as fear I’ll never be able to achieve that . But when I’m starting a ms I often look up different books to see how the author did something I’m having trouble with.

    Alison

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