Authors do things differently. Some claim they shouldn’t read as they are afraid they will copy another author’s writing style. Most writers I talk to swear by reading in order to learn how to write. Should we read in order to write better? Or should we not get distracted by what others do and just follow our own paths?
Stories are a Part of Us
I think I’m not the first one to say my love for writing was fed by my love for reading. It comes down to this: you read a story, immerse yourself in it, you escape to the max and you come out thinking ‘what if I created a story like that?‘ Then you pick up your pen or your laptop and try. You fail. You try again. You read some more. You learn some more. And then somewhere along the line, you craft something half-way decent simply because you’ve gotten familiar with the way narratives are constructed.
But narratives themselves are not limited to books. We as human beings are brought up with stories. It doesn’t matter what civilisation we look at, narrative is a part of us. It can be fairy tales and books, but also gossip. Imagine you experienced something and you go on to explain what happened to friends. You always spice it up a little, don’t you? You use a certain pitch or add hand gestures. In other words: you narrate. So, essentially, as writers and non-writers, readers and non-readers we surround ourselves with stories. We listen to them and we tell them. Books are just a medium through which stories are told.
Reading as a Writer
Let’s take it one step further, what does it mean to read as a writer? I’ve noticed a big change myself. I simply don’t read a story the way I used to when I hadn’t decided on being a writer and learning more about stories. Nowadays, I look at the plot, the characters, the setting and think about whether those elements are well crafted throughout the story. It’s like a director noticing that a film was shot with a bird’s eye view or a worm’s eye view. I notice whether a story has a third person limited or omniscient viewpoint.
But it’s not just the reading that is relevant. It’s the discussion as well. Just thinking to myself ‘I like this book‘ doesn’t cut it for me. Talking about it with other writers and reviewers, who look at the technical aspects of a story… That’s when you really start developing an awareness of how the different parts of a novel have been brought together. Once you know the way stories are constructed, you can use the screws and drill them into your own narrative. I feel one great way to learn that is to read.
What do you think about reading in order to write better? Do you agree or do you prefer to do your own thing and not get affected by another’s writing style or overused trope?