READING TO LEARN HOW TO WRITE BETTER


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A great trick for helping your own writing is to read other fiction similar to what you write and see what you skim through because it doesn’t interest you or bores you.

Does anything in particular annoy you about the book? Examples:

  • Present tense
  • Starting with one character musing or waking up. No conflict, no action
  • Too much description is a good example. Or maybe even, not enough, which results in no sense of place.
  • Characters with annoying habits that distract you from the plot. One recent read had several characters puckering their lips, apparently in confusion or disgust—I was pretty disgusted myself after about the fourth use of this word. Another one I saw by a best-selling author was; “Her eyes crunched.” What? Like cereal?
  • Anything that distracts you from the plot
  • Long descriptions of travel routes. Who cares how the character got from A to B, unless something exciting happens along the way? I don’t mind a mention of a few streets so that people familiar with a real setting get a better visual, but no need for every single turn, IMO. Or telling the reader every time a character climbed into the car, and then exited again. Anyone find it amusing, as I do, at how hard we try to use different words for ordinary actions, like sitting and getting in and out of a car (climbing in and exiting out of)?
  • Too much jumping around—with too many character POVs, settings, and/or timeframes. All this can be handled well by a good writer, but it can be hard to read by a not-so-talented one.
  • Weird attributions. The latest one I saw by a best-selling author was; “Her eyes crunched.” What? Like cereal?

Bottom line, try to figure out why this particular book was easy to put down.

On the other hand, notice what you liked about a work:

  • The characters? Why? What actions and emotional responses made them come alive for you?
  • The setting? Why—because it was simply interesting to you personally or because it was done so well, or?
  • The plot—because it had great twists or was unusual, or what? What plot points worked well for you? How can you make them your own in your writing?
  • The writing itself—was it voice, or word choices, or theme, or pacing, or something hard to define? See if you can nail it down

As soon as you figure out that the book you are reading right now might be a favorite, start taking notes. For each chapter, do a short synopsis.

  • Pay particular attention to how it starts and ends
  • What was the main conflict in the chapter, or questions raised?
  • How did the writer describe things that made you actually see them in your mind’s eye?
  • What did you like about the characters, including the villain(s). What made you love to hate them?

Is there anything in particular that almost always makes you love or dislike a book? If so, what is it? And what do you try really hard to do well with your stories?

For a much longer blog post about reading to help your writing, I recommend this:

How to learn to write while you’re reading


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2 thoughts on “READING TO LEARN HOW TO WRITE BETTER

    • Carol, you’re probably right. But still, scrunched eyes? Sounds painful! And hard to do, like droping them is.

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