We become writers because we love to read in the first place. So if we learn to read as writers, we can use what we read to strengthen our writing.
Many times, we complain that we don’t have time to read, yet reading is important to writing. Writers who don’t stop to read risk losing touch with their genre, with the audience, and with fiction in general. A writer who does not read is not very different from any other professional who refuses to improve and continue studying.
Reading also represents a unique opportunity to observe and learn about the technique of others, the subjects they use, the way they face their stories…
Reads A Lot
Good readers read a lot, inside and outside their genres, in addition to mixing modern works with reading the classics. The broader your readings, the greater the foundation on which you will build your writing.
If you do not know where to start, I recommend that you look for lists of books, there are millions (in this blog without going any further, there are a few). You may want to read selected titles and mark them, or, perhaps, you prefer to take a little here and there and read at your own pace. It does not matter, the important thing is to vary, the mixture of cultures, styles and times will give you a cultural richness that will be reflected in your ghost writing.
It may be good for you to keep a journal with your readings, in it you can write down your impressions of each book. This can be of great help to you as a writer. For example, you may read a book with unreal characters, and a poorly constructed plot, but that hooks you as a reader. It would be a good exercise to know how the writer gets hooked, while neglecting such important aspects of his work.
You can ask yourself questions as you read, for example:
If you are reading a book that is not your genre, what makes it different? Can you learn something and apply it to your gender?
If it is a classic, what style does it belong to? Did you like it? Do you think it deserves a place in the canon?
Differentiate their strengths and weaknesses. Analyze aspects such as the plot, the plot, the characters, the use of language. Could anything be improved?
Become an expert of your genre
If you want to write a crime novel, horror or romance you need to become an expert in the genre. Surely you have chosen a genre because you love to read it, but now you need to read with the mind of the writer.
These are some questions to ask yourself
How does this book fit my genre? Is it based on the clichés of the genre or does it break them and become something new?
Did you discover something new by reading? For example, if you are a historical novel writer, have you discovered, thanks to the book, that some eras work better than others? Is there room for more stories at that time or is it already too tired?
How is the book considered within the genre? Do you agree on what is thought of him?
Reading other writers can be a great way to learn about the structure of the narrative. As you read, write down and remember where the author creates suspense or conflict. Think about whether you get what you want or not, and why that structure works for you.
You can do a more formal kind of exercise. You can do it with any book you read, although I recommend that you do it with one of the same gender, in order to feel comfortable. In addition, it would be recommended that you do it with a book that you have already read, so you will not run the risk of getting lost with the story.
You will have to take notes for this exercise. The best thing is that you divide your notes by chapters. It would not hurt to count the words either. One way to do this would be to count the words on three separate pages and estimate the words per page. This way you can know the length of each chapter.
To begin, write a brief summary of what happens in each chapter, in addition to its length in words. You may be interested in pointing out other aspects of the structure. For example, for a novel with multiple points of view, you may want to note in which chapter (or part of the chapter), you jump from one point to another.
Once you are done, you will have a very clear view of when and where the biggest conflicts and tipping points occur within the book, and how the author introduces them. If you do this with two or three books, you can compare the way different authors introduce conflict. Use those notes to work on the structure and plot of your own novel.
Learn to build characters
As you have done with the structure, you can read the book by looking at the characters, are they credible or are they just stereotypes? Are they well built? If not, how could they be developed?
As with structure, choose a couple of books whose characters have been particularly insightful to you. Read the books again, paying special attention to the characters. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
How does each of them speak? Are the dialogues credible? Do they speak according to their age, social position, intelligence or circumstances?
Does it describe the characters physically? It’s well done? Works?
Do the characters have a past? Is that past effective?
What other techniques does the author use to introduce the characters?
Learn the language
You can learn a lot if you look at how the different authors you read use language. The style can vary a lot, from a poetic one to a direct and hard one, from convoluted and complex paragraphs, to others short and effective.
Observe the structure of the sentences. Does the author change the structure and length? How does this affect the reading experience? For example, one of the techniques used by some authors is to shorten the sentences during the action phases, to imitate the rapid movements of the characters.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you read:
How would you describe the style?
Is the style appropriate to the novel? Is it more or less effective than other styles? Why?
Are the vocabulary and sentences complex or simple? Does this have any effect on the reader?
Read like a writer
Many writers complain that they cannot read a novel, as readers they find it impossible to turn off that light bulb and cannot immerse themselves in reading a great novel. However, sooner or later they stumble upon that book that turns off all the switches and throws them back to their old lives as simple readers. This is an experience that should be analyzed. What is it about that novel that makes you forget that you are a writer?
As much as you think you don’t have time, as much as you think you are not going to enjoy reading, you have to accept that reading is a very important part of being a writer. Reading will keep you in touch with the genre, you will continue to learn, and you will continue to grow as a writer. A writer can learn a lot about structure, characters, dialogue, and themes from other writers.
Now it’s your turn. What have you learned about writing by reading? Do you read to learn? Do you learn while you read? Do you think it is necessary to read to be a writer?