|Photo credit: JKim1 on Flickr|
The great thing about reading is that especially for the writer, it's never a waste of time— whether you like the book or not, there's something to be learned.
You see, when you don't like whatever you're reading, the writer asks why— what is it about the book that you don't like? Does the pacing feel off? Are the characters not connecting with you? Does the dialogue feel forced? Once you've figured out what aspect (or aspects) feel off to you, push harder— what is it about the dialogue that makes it feel flat? How would you make it better? Why aren't the characters connecting? Is it a particular character that isn't working? Why?
On the other hand, when you love whatever you're reading, the writer asks why again— what is it about the book that really resonates with you? Is it the voice? The characters? Something about the plot itself? What exactly is working and how could you incorporate something like it into your writing?
Here are two examples from books I really enjoyed:
From Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi (page 22):
"I take a sharp hit of oxygen. 'Funny. So did I.'
3 seconds pass.
He cracks a grin so wide, so amused, so refreshingly sincere it's like a clap of thunder through my body."
Honestly, you can't open to a page in Shatter Me without finding at least one poetic line full of refreshing imagery and voice. Shatter Me taught me about putting poetry back into the novel and not being afraid to break the rules.
From The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (page 53):
"When I got out of the movie, I had four text messages from Augustus.
Tell me my copy is missing the last twenty pages or something.
Hazel Grace, tell me I have not reached the end of this book.
OH MY GOD DO THEY GET MARRIED OR NOT OH MY GOD WHAT IS THIS
I guess Anna died and so it just ends? CRUEL. Call me when you can. Hope all's okay."
Something I absolutely loved about The Fault in Our Stars was that both Augustus and Hazel sounded like actual teenagers I could meet at my local mall. Everything from the witty (and hysterical) dialogue, to the text messages like the ones I quoted screamed authentic teenager, and I loved how genuine it felt. The Fault in Our Stars reminded me about the importance of authenticity in dialogue and narration.
Lessons like these are best absorbed when we see them in action—that is, when we see them working in a book. So go pick up a book and read. You never know what you might learn that will help your writing in the future.
Now it's your turn: What have you learned about writing from reading a book?