Saturday, July 9, 2011

A good fiction writer reads – believe that.

I have been in the writing community, both fiction and non, for years now. I have loved to write both stories and poetry since I can remember – literally as far back as I can recall. I have always had a knack for the English language, and it has always come naturally and easily to me. Now, that does not mean that I’m an expert or any better than anyone else; it simply means that I love how our words work and am fascinated and awed by their power.

Of course, life sometimes just *happens*, and I stopped writing for many years. By the time I picked it up again in 2008, I was rusty and my mechanics really needed work. The ideas were there, and my passion was there, but the skills were definitely a tad dull. Luckily, I had joined a wonderful writing forum, Accentuate Writers (, and I have been honing my skills and improving there ever since. I have also been reading. Quite a bit.

I am of the belief that you can buy all the grammar and style books that you can afford, work through them religiously and still not improve much in your story writing. Why? Because stories aren’t about mechanics – not really. They are about the characters, the plot, and the emotion, and you won’t find that stuff in any grammar book ever written.

Also, just because you pack your brain with a bunch of rules does not mean your writing will flow any better than it did before. It simply means that you know a lot of rules that you may or may not know how to apply to your writing. Reading through a book entitled, “How To Weld” does not make you a welder. Experience, which includes a truck load of mistakes and small victories, is the only way we will ever become what we want. In this case, fiction writers. We must read a lot and we must write a lot.

And while I encourage reading the classics, I do not encourage studying them for tips and tricks. Shakespeare and Dostoevsky are awesome, but if you try handing a publisher a story that reads as if it were written in the 1500s, things aren’t going to get very far for you. Read current stories as well. There are some really, really well-written novels and short stories out there today that can be very beneficial reads. Stephen King himself says to read anything you can get your hands on. What good would a movie producer who doesn’t go to the movies be? Not much, that’s what.

Set aside a little time each day to read fiction. Read outside your favorite genres. Read unknown authors and read best-sellers. Learning the rules of any game only teaches you how to play, not how to play well. Read the works of those who have mastered the game already so that you can see the kind of stuff that gets published. Or, keep churning out mistake-ridden crap stories that Mom and close friends say are great but an editor will chuck in the trash. It’s totally up to you.


Frank Martin said...

I write for two reasons:

1) I enjoy reading fiction, and I forgot this for years. Some damn fool (probably me, myself, and I) convinced me to all but stop reading fiction when I entered my teens, and I only recently started again. The more fiction I read, the more I regret ever stopping, as I'm slowly recapturing that feeling I had of being 9 years old and laying under the covers at midnight reading Prince Caspian via flashlight.

2) I've enjoyed writing for years. I've written stories most of my life, though most for one reason or another I wouldn't dare let another living soul read (except when I had to because they were written for an assignment). I took a creative writing class my last semester of college and loved it. I'd post some of the stuff I wrote on accentuate for critique, but my damn fool self (the same one that got me to stop reading fiction when I turned 13 most likely) got me to delete all the stuff I wrote for that class. I am, however, highly tempted to contact the professor and see if she can dig up the stuff I wrote and e-/mail it to me.

I can't help but agree with you and Mr King. If you don't do and enjoy the first (ie, reading, especially fiction), you can't do the second very well.

Derek Odom said...

Eliza and I were talking about you and Narnia. I read the series at about the same age, and I don't remember where I got it. Possible your parents gave it to me? I love, love those books.