Tuesday Writing Tip – Why Writers Need to Read

Some of my young adult books

Some of my young adult books

I’ve been involved in discussions with other writers where they emphatically refuse to read books in the genre they write in. Some claim they are worried about inadvertently copying ideas.  Others worry that it will affect their writing.

That’s the very reason I read widely in the genre I write – it does affect my writing. In fact, I think it makes me a better writer.

A tennis player doesn’t refuse to watch other tennis players because it might affect their game. There is so much opportunity to learn from what others are doing and why readers love their books.

Apart from the pleasure of reading books in the genre you love to write, they also make a great analytical tool.

Here are some things I have learned and continue to learn from other writers:

Strong beginnings – if I think my beginning is weak, I’ll read other books in the genre I’m writing and look at how these authors hook the reader in. What are their techniques? Can they be applied to improve my own manuscript?

Character voice – Reading a book with  a strong character voice can help me identify why the voice of my own main character seems mundane. Perhaps I haven’t allowed their personality to show through enough. Perhaps I need to get to know my main character better.

Setting – Setting is one of my weaknesses. Sometimes I fail to let the reader know enough about where my characters are. Sometimes I don’t show how setting influences the story. Sometimes I forget to incorporate the setting as part of the action. These are all issues I have identified by reading the books of other writers who have done it so much better. I look at why their setting works and mine doesn’t?

I read the kind of books that I want to write

I read the kind of books that I want to write

Plotting – Over complicated plots are another of my weaknesses. Getting to the essence of a story in someone else’s book can help me identify the essence of mine. This helps me simplify my story.

Dialogue – To me, this is particularly important if you are an adult writing for kids or teens. Reading contemporary dialogue in other books can help you identify where yours may be stilted or unrealistic.

Sagging middles – How do other authors keep the momentum of the story going and why did their book hook me to the last page? Identifying these things can help me fix my own sagging middle, and make my story compelling all the way through. Has the author introduced more conflict or turning points for the character? How have they done this? Can this be applied to my own story?

The finale – I don’t care what anyone says, endings are hard. But they are an important part of what makes a book memorable. Reading how others have ended their book can help you work out how to tie up your loose ends.

I read books from all over the world.

I read books from all over the world.

Global Perspective – I also enjoy reading books from other countries. Apart from giving me a world view, they also introduce me to other writing techniques and devices that might not be ‘popular’ in Australia.

To me, reading other people’s books isn’t copying – it’s all about honing your craft.

What do you think? What sorts of things do you look for when reading books in the genre you write? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)

Dee

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20 thoughts on “Tuesday Writing Tip – Why Writers Need to Read

  1. Hi Dee,
    Haven’t been here in a while but must say I read in the genre I am writing. I’m not copying the author’s style, I’m learning what’s out there. Does this sound better in first person? Does my book sound better in first person? Many ideas flow through. There are so many how-to books out there. The best are from the Big Time Authors, like, King, but for me reading is the best way to learn how to add background and dialogue and we need to get the book finished.

  2. I can never understand people who say things like that – makes me want to biff them over the head and say, ‘Stop being precious!’ Osmosis is one of the best learning tools in the world – and then there’s the other side. Books are fabulous to read!!!!!!! 🙂 Good post, Dee.

  3. I was incredulous the first time I heard this and continue to be so. I don’t believe anyone can be a writer without being a reader – a writer in the sense of someone who not only cares about their craft but can’t live without stories. And that’s the only kind of writer I want to read.

  4. I find it hard to understand people’s fear of reading in the genre they write. I absorb everything I can in that genre to understand the expectations of the reader. I’ve still got a lot of growing to do as an author and reading is one of my key tools for learning.

    Plus, yeah, it’s fun 🙂

  5. You’re right Charmaine – and literature and the world of words keeps changing so I don’t think we ever stop learning. In Leonardo Da Vinci’s era, artists used to do 13 year full time apprenticeships. That’s a lot of learning:)

    Happy reading and writing:)

    Dee

  6. Ludicrous. Not reading in your writing is depriving yourself not only of what you’ve outlined above Dee, but the quite possibly the very reason you are writing for / to the genre in the first place – because you love it. I don’t stop dining out and sampling my favourite cuisine because I’m worried it’ll hamper the way I cook it at home. I personally relish reading the genre I write in plus enjoy taking ‘reading breaks’ now and then by reading a completely different genre. It’s both refreshing and benefical, kind of a nice vacation for my creative mind. One of my greatest pleasures is sharing books I’ve happened upon in the genre I write with members of my reading group; reads they might otherwise have passed over. Life can be pleasantly surprising in this way.

  7. I agree with all that’s been said! And when would-be authors ask us for our writing tips, how many of us say fervently, “Read lots! Write lots!”?

  8. Hi Dee, I agree. I was shocked when a children’s author once told me that she doesn’t read children’s books though she loves them. This was because she wanted to have her own voice and not be influenced by others. What the? I found this a little disturbing, to say the least. I read quite widely (children’s/YA/Adult fiction) as a lot of writers do. Writing and reading should go hand in hand. You learn so much by reading other writers’ works – how plots and sub plots are interwoven, use of different active verbs to bring more life into a character’s action or mood, use of imagery, and so forth. I know my writing is on the improve, and this is due, in large, to the books I read. Good post Dee.

  9. I couldn’t agree more. When I was trying to get all the authors in an anthology to promote together and to offer to review other authors’ books I was shocked when one told me that she couldn’t help as she had ceased reading altogether once she began to write. Can you imagine?

  10. Hi Jenny,

    This is such a strange concept to me. It’s like saying, “Now that I’m writing I’ve decided not to eat anymore.”

    I can’t imagine a life without books.

    Dee

  11. I agree… with one qualification.
    if you love kids’ books, then refraining from reading them doesn’t make sense. But I will make one exception… when I am deeply immersed in writing my narrative, I won’t read other kids’ books for that time because I have a habit of subconsciously picking up or imitating their styles. For example, after reading Enid Blyton I find myself using terms such as ‘goodness’ and ‘jolly’ and ‘how queer’ that I would normally never use. It’s a bit like picking up somebody’s accent after talking to them for a while – something else I tend to do. So I think taking a break from them is (for me) a helpful way to find my own voice. And I get to catch up on adults’ books during that time.
    Then I go back to the pile of children’s books calling out to me…

  12. Like several others here I can’t imagine what reading. It is as we read the works of other writers we find out what works in our own or not. I’d say the main thing is not to read exclusively one author if worried about losing your own voice but to read widely.Different voices, different genres is the key.

  13. I can see what you mean Jo – although sometimes I’ve actually gone out deliberately reading YA novels when I’m writing mine to help me recognises weaknesses in my character’s voice. Sometimes reading a novel with a really strong voice actually helps me find mine. And I have to admit that I often read adult books while I’m writing kids/YA ones because there are times I feel I need the separation too.

    Thanks for your input into the discussion:)

    Dee

  14. That’s a good point you make Dale. I guess if you read only one author exclusively, it is possible to lose your own voice.

    Thanks for dropping in.

    Happy writing:)

    Dee

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