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.

THERE’S MORE THAN ONE WAY TO EDIT – TUESDAY WRITING TIP

I might have mentioned before that Letters to Leonardo took about thirty drafts before I felt I had it right. Although as someone pointed out to me recently, there is no ‘right’ in writing. It’s just a case of getting your work to a stage where it conveys what you want it to in the best way possible.

I know I’ve talked about editing before but in the last few weeks I have discovered I’d been going about it the wrong way.

I have realised that editing involves getting inside your novel just as much as writing it and it’s probably even harder because instead of carrying all these wonderful ideas around in your head, you have committed them to print or computer. How do you step back and distance yourself from your own work?

Recently I discovered that the way I was editing wasn’t working for me and that I was missing a lot of the subtle things in the rewrites – not the grammar, the spelling or the character names and details. I was missing some of the nitty gritty, like the places where my character’s voice lapsed or became too old for him/her – where the language being used was out dated or just not believable for that character.

I wasn’t picking up the bits where my sub plots had faded into almost oblivion. I was surprised at things I was picking up in other people’s writing but not my own.

What I realised is that for me, editing on screen doesn’t work. It’s helpful for picking up typos and spelling, but it doesn’t allow me to immerse myself in my story again. It doesn’t allow me to truly enter the world of my story .

HERE’S HOW SOME AUTHORS EDIT

  • Directly onto their computer (doesn’t work for me)
  • By printing out their manuscript and reading it as if it were a book written by someone else. (This is my method)
  • By handwriting their manuscript out again. (I’d get one book written every 100 years if I tried this)
  • By typing their manuscript out again from memory (My memory isn’t good enough although I sometimes do this with a scene if I think it needs more depth. This helps me to think logically about what’s happening in the scene as if it were a real event. From that I can sometimes work out what’s going to happen next.)

HERE’S HOW I EDIT

  1. Print the entire manuscript out.
  2. Read it through as if it were written by someone else (with a pen handy so that I can mark bits – lots of them).
  3. In my first edit I look for plot and character inconsistencies – logic problems
  4. In my next edit I look for typos and places where the language could work harder.
  5. Next I take a break, set the manuscript aside and spend a bit more time with my characters in my head.
  6. In my next draft I look at voice. Does my character do the things and sound the way I want them to? Is their voice authentic? Are they someone the reader will relate to or even like?
  7. EXTRA TIP ON VOICE – if you’re having trouble with voice, find a book that you think has a strong, authentic voice and see if you can work out how the author achieved it. I’m not saying copy that voice (you won’t be able to anyway because character and author voice are linked) but think about why it resonates and stays with you. I discovered this recently when I picked up Girl Saves Boy by teen author, Steph Bowe and suddenly I knew exactly how my MC should sound. Renaming my character can also completely change their voice and behaviour. My MC (main character) in my current Work In Progress was called Tara. Just by turning her into Sarah, she has become a softer, more likeable person.
  8. Are the story events in the right sequence? Are there turning points that advance the plot and the main character?
  9. Next I look at line by line, scene by scene and chapter by chapter. If I can’t summarise a chapter in a paragraph then there’s probably too much waffle in it. (More about this in next week’s blog post).10. Do I still like my story? If I do, then I send it to writer friends to be critiqued, or give it to my kids if the age group is relevant. They are very honest and helpful.
  10. Next I take a deep breath and examine all feedback constructively.
  11. I put the manuscript aside again for a month or so and go through the entire process again.

So I guess what I’m really saying here is that even when you think your manuscript is ready to send out, chances are that it’s not. Submitting is a great thing to do, but don’t be impatient and send your work out as soon as the first draft is done. You might only get one chance to impress a publisher or agent.

I’d love to hear how you edit. Feel free to share your experiences and tips in the comments section of this post.

Next week’s post – Editing Bit by Bit. We’ll be looking at getting to the heart of your book and editing line by line, scene by scene and chapter by chapter.

Happy writing:)

Dee