Monday, October 21, 2013

Reading as a Writer

At the heart of every writer is a reader.  Many times, I’ve read the advice that if you want to writer better, then you should read.

There is a grain of truth to that.  When reading, a writer can observe how others do it.  What works?  What doesn’t work?  There’s always something to learn.

Over the past two weeks, I read two novels, and I learned from both of them.  One taught me what to do while the other taught me what not to do.

I’ll start with what NOT to do.

1.       Don’t cheat your reader.  This may sound obvious, but I haven’t wanted to throw a book in a long time.  In this story, there was a ‘big bad’, the one thing that no one wanted to happen, the motivation for every characters’ actions.  During the ending, the big bad appeared, and for some reason, it was on the same side as the main characters.  The big bad ended up defeating the bad guy, and defeating the entire purpose of the book.  At least, that’s how I felt.  Don’t take the easy way out.  Your reader went on this journey with you.  Don’t tell them that there’s a short cut after they stayed with you.

2.       Don’t have too many extraneous characters.  I have a hard time with this.  I like creating characters.  But don’t have two characters who fill the same exact function, have the same attitude, behaviors and opinions.  When all that separates them is their name, the reader won’t be able to keep track.  And they won’t really care. 

3.       Don’t keep repeating the same information over and over.  This should be pretty self-explanatory.  If your reader learned something with one character, they aren’t going to want to read it with another one, or a third.  More on that to come.

What to do:

1.       Give your protagonist a unique and strong voice.  This book was in first person.  I’m not a huge fan of first person, but this book was written so well that I barely noticed.  The MC had such a unique voice that I immediately fell in love with her.  Everything she described was from her point of view and seen through her opinion. 

2.       Don’t be afraid to give your characters flaws.  These characters were so flawed they were incredible.  When you have characters that are so ‘perfect,’ who never question who they are, or break down when dealing with trials, it’s hard for the reader to relate.  These characters were as flawed as they could come and I completely understood their point of view, even when I couldn’t imagine being in their situation.

3.       Don’t give everything away all at once.  There were two or three major revelations that occurred near the end of the book.  One that amazed me so much that once I finished, I had to go back and reread the book, now knowing the secret reveal at the end.  That’s the ultimate goal, right?  Making the reader want to reread the book right after reading it?

How about you?  Read any good books recently?