Read Like a Writer

You see it all the time in advice to writers: read. And read some more. And then read some more. In short, if you aren’t writing, you should be reading.  The idea behind it is that you can learn your craft by reading what other, supposedly better, writers have done. The problem is, the good writers make everything flow so seamlessly that you don’t notice what they’re doing or how they do it.

I had an English professor in college who would always tell us to “read like a writer.”  I never really understood what he meant.

Until recently.

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, thanks to the Kindle app on my phone. And a lot of what I’ve been reading has been… eye opening, to say the least.

A story in one anthology I’ve read said was by a “best selling author” but it was so full of grammatical errors (especially sentence fragments) that I nearly gave up on it. (It had some other issues too, but that was the most glaring.)

Now, granted, sentence fragments can be used properly but these just… weren’t. All through reading it I kept wondering who edited the story – and the anthology it was in. (Mostly so I never hired them – in case I ever got enough money to hire an editor, that is.)

And there was another story that I really learned a lot from. It had way more telling than showing, and that “telling” read like it had been written by a second grader.

Then there were really awkward scene breaks. (As in: an empty line, a row of asterisks, another empty line then the same scene continued. Why????)

And stilted dialogue. I think maybe it was written with an emphasis on word count because there were few contractions anywhere (except for a fairly consistent use of “you’re” instead of “your.”)  You know that advice about reading your dialogue out loud to yourself?  Well, now I know why they say to do that.

It also just had too much going on. There were too many characters that just showed up with no background or information, just a name, and a few chapters later you discovered that this one was that one’s sister, and, oh, yeah, this other one is also a sister.

Now, maybe this book was part of a series, and the readers were expected to know who was related to whom, who was whose mate, etc, but for someone coming in cold there were just too many characters.

Granted, in the Academy of the Accord series, I do have a lot of characters, but I’m being careful to introduce them – and to reintroduce them in later books. I also remind my readers about which warrior is bonded with which wizard, not just when re-introducing them, but once or twice later in the book too.

Overkill?

Maybe. But I’d rather slip in an unneeded reminder here and there than frustrate and confuse (and therefore lose) my readers.

A few other random thoughts.

Sex scenes are fine.  But when it seems that that’s all the characters do then it gets old and dull and I tend to skip them. (I’m wondering if I should go back through Sanguine and delete some of mine, except the ones in there serve a purpose – they show the developing relationship between the Kaen and Gregor. The ones I’m talking about are just… there. Gratuitous sex. Sometimes while there are pressing issues that need dealt with. (It reminds me of the scene in The Sound of Music where they’re running from the Nazis and stop to sing.)

Also, could adult characters please act like adults and not teenagers with their first crush?  Or two year olds throwing a tantrum?  Seriously! Never in my life have I wanted to smack some sense into so many characters in such a short amount of time.

Oh, and see that exclamation point up there? Please don’t use them when describing action.  One really intense scene was utterly destroyed because of an exclamation point. (Or, as another English prof used to tell us, “Don’t tell me how to feel.”)

So, yes. Read. Read a lot.  Read everything. You’ll learn from reading the good writers.  You’ll learn more from reading the bad stuff.

 

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