Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Why Writers Should Read

Recently I spoke with an Alley Cat about a crit I’d received. The crit partner had wisely uncovered a problem no one else had seen. The Alley Cat’s response was “Your crit partner must read a lot.”

I pondered the underlying message in her statement: Reading a lot has great value for writers.

As a writer, I, of course, see value in readers. I want to please, inform, entertain, and intrigue readers. But sometimes I forget that I, too, am a reader and because I want to be a good writer I should be much more than a reader, I should be a voracious reader.

After all, a chef eats, a musician listens to music, a tailor wears clothes, an actor watches plays/movies, a medical persons observes procedures, a swimmer watches others swim, and etc. A writer should read.

"In the ongoing process of becoming a writer, I read and reread the authors I most loved. I read for pleasure, first, but also more...of how sentences were formed..." Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose

True confession: I have read this year, but only a few books. 

Not that long ago someone like Cec Murphey or Frank Ball challenged those participating in a writers loop to read one hundred books that year. I have so much to learn from them, sigh.

The challenge inspired me. Someone had dared me with a difficult task. I read more than one hundred books that year. It also happened to be one of the best writing years in terms of, wel,l many writing components for me.

So, for my sake, and hopefully your benefit, I chose to make a list: The benefits of reading for a writer. After only ten minutes I came up with twenty-five benefits and am thinking more will pop in my head before this post is published. And I'm sure you will think of some too :)

The Benefits of Reading Voraciously for a Writer:

1. Plot ideas:  A secondary character in a movie said to the MC something like, "I once wanted to be a fashion designer. I learned to sew, studied the fashion magazines, and managed to see a few shows. As the models paraded the new styles I looked at the garments and thought how I would have made it differently." The Trouble with Angels

When a writer reads books, many books, new ways of telling stories pop. Fresh, interesting new ideas. Cinderella has been told in countess ways, yet the story always piques our interest. Why? Because the foundation is a good story. Change the setting, themes, characters, throw in this, add that curve, and a new story is born. (i.e. a bookstore worker chatted with me about the Twilight series. She said she loved the books, and in her opinion the series was nothing more than retellings of the classics, but with a new twist.) 

I am one who frets over finding new story ideas. Sometimes the pressure of creating the new perfect story looms over my head. After thinking about this post I realized this was not the key. Writing well and presenting a fresh twist will bring the new story idea.

Since I hate homework, I will give you a challenge--should you chose to play with me--read one book between now and the next post. That means we have two weeks. In this newly read book, search for one way you would changed the story had you thought of the same great idea. What new story could be created?

sample: Cinderella. What if the prince had been changed to a pirate. What if the wicked step mother had been changed to a prince? (Princess Bride)

The purpose of this challenge is to grow an idea pool from the wealth of fabulous books sitting at our fingertips. Are you willing to rise to the challenge? Ready? Go.

Hmm, I've used up today's post with the first benefit on my list. Guess you'll have to come back to see the next one...Buwahahaha...hints of 1001 Arabian Nights.


This blog post is by Mary Vee
Mary lives in Montana with her husband and loves to hear from her three college kids. She writes Christian young adult fiction (pirate tales, missionary and Bible adventure stories).

Come Step into Someone Else's World with Mary's writing

To learn more about Mary, visit her blog


Bonnee Crawford said...

It's especially important for writers to read within their genre or style or particular category. I definitely agree. There are so many stories that are retellings of other stories with slight changes. The Lion King was Shakespeare's Hamlet, Clueless was Emma by Jane Austen. The latter adaption was better than the original in my opinion, but that's just because I can't stand Jane Austen's style... it's too much!

Turndog Millionaire said...

I set myself a target for 30 books in 2012 (how the devil did you manage 100???)

So far i'm on book number 10 i believe and i'm loving it so far. I'm trying to be varied in what i read, and i feel it will help my writing immensely.

I'm editing at the moment (although taken a lull as i'm starting a new venture), but it's given me a great deal of things to consider

Reading, for a writer, is an absolute must and i know that now

Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

Beth K. Vogt said...

I love this post.
And I am taking on your challenge. I am going to read a book in the next two weeks. Who knows, maybe I'll read two!
Such great insights. Thanks so much for challenging me as a writer.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Ooooo, Mary, I sense a great blog post series coming one with this! Excellent work, my dear!

I am taking the challenge too. Hopefully I can finish a book in 2 weeks! lol

Debra E. Marvin said...

Reading a hundred books is possible I suppose. I don't know how someone like Michele Sutton writes, reads and reviews so many, and has a family...but it can be done. One way I add to my reading is to listen to classics and literary fiction on audio from the library.

I admit I probably don't read a wide enough variety and that's where audio comes in. I listen to Bernard Cornwall, Josue Picoult, phillippa Gregory and Alexander McCall Smith while saving my reading time for reading in my genre for writing.

Thanks Mary!

Joanne Sher said...

Just started a book last night - aiming to be done, for sure, within two weeks! LOVE this post, Mary!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Love this post! I always thought it would be a retelling of a Jane Austen story, but if I had to choose one right now, I'd pick Cinderella. I have ideas there, and a few twists, I'm just working on making it a bit more original :)

Michael Ehret said...

You know, what's so easy to overlook in this is how busy most writers are. Since most of us also have at least part time jobs, if not full time, it is SO EASY to say there is no time to write today because I had to "insert excuse here."

The same is true of reading. I don't have time to read that book for fun or instruction, I have to "insert excuse here."

I have time for American Idol and The Voice...I have time to read.

Excellent post, Mary.

Unknown said...

I read like crazy. C-R-A-Z-Y. What helps me is my Kindle and iPhone (with Kindle app)...they allow me to read when I'm waiting in the doctor's office, salon, etc. Also, I exercise on an elliptical, which is perfect for my Kindle. All about the convenience here! :)

Julia M. Reffner said...

So true!! What a great post. You know I don't even think about it, but sometimes when I'm having trouble with my story or getting stumped I notice I haven't read anything fiction in a month. I realized the only thing I read that month was my copy of Writer's Digest.

Anonymous said...

Mary, great post! I recently gave myself permission to read more of the books in my TBR pile and fewer of the magazines we subscribe to. :) Now, I have a good excuse for this! I need to read to become a better writer. :) Thanks for sharing your insights today. :)

Angie Dicken said...

Mary, your challenge reminds me of that class we took withJeff Gerke;) So, this wast hang up when I first started writing. While I had read a ton of books over the years, when I started writing I was in a dry season as far as reading goes...and definitely hadn't read much in the genre I wanted to write. When I finally took advice like yours to heart, it have me such purpose in my own writing because it 1. Challenged me to do that good...or better than the book I read, and 2. Helped me see the craft advice I was learning, play out in a successful way. It's Just like when I was a young mother and I hung out with other young moms, not only to get ideas, but to understand more about my own perspective...random? Sorry, going on 4 hrs of sleep!

Angie Dicken said...

So my phone changed some words!!!! Ugh!

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Thanks for sharing other spill off stories. You all have probably heard the saying "There is no such thing as a new story". Well, I think I could argue that. Sometimes the spin off story is so well written and inticing, the reader never notices the spin off. Therefore, may I encourage you all to spin an inticing, well written story:)
Thanks for your comment, Bonnee

Reading 100 books was a one year game I played. Several books pages had spaghetti sauce splattered on them, a few walls were bumped with my vacuum, etc. Not sure I could do it again! 30 books is a huge goal considering that would be more than 1 book every 2 weeks. Happy reading. :)

You have accepted the challenge, great. But 2 books? I'd say you will leave me in the dust. Happy reading:)

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

You're on board, too! What book did you pick? (you can email me your answer if you want, then I will tell you what I picked)

I love audio books. Its the best way to make driving interesting. I also like hearing the voice inflections and music that goes with it. Thanks for your comment:)

Started last night, perfect. Email me which book you chose or reply here. The answers today will help me find my next reads. Thanks for stopping by.

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Great choice. My guess is, the more bizarre the twist, the more unique the story will feel. Who would have thought turning the wicked step mother into a prince would be so successful?

We can be so into our wants, for sure. But in the end we profit greatly by wise use of our time. Not saying American Idol is bad, but catching all the spin offs, you tube versions, and etc, might better be spent doing something a tad different. Appreciate your stopping by today:) You have found a few more minutes we can invest in reading.

Great suggestions. I have a ledge on my treadmill where I set my book. I get bored just walking. I need to walk outside where I can see the world, or read a book while on my treadmill. Must multitask! Thanks for stopping by today.

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

So can I assume you will step into a book and lose yourself in an adventure - if only for a few minutes between mom duties? Better than a Calgon moment:)

Jeanne T
Sounds like a well balanced reading diet on your new menu:)

Fab points! Reading other books challengs us to excel and model principles we learn. (Don't worry about the typos your phone did, happens to all of us..and I didn't use a phone!)

Susan Anne Mason said...

Hi Mary,

I'm with Melissa! I read like crazy too! Sometimes two books at a time!

I didn't hit 100 books last year but pretty close. I started keeping track of the books I read and rating them. Just for my own information.

It definitely helps to read as much as you can - not only to see how amazing some authors are and to study their techniques, but to see what NOT to do! I'm finding that not too many books live up to my expectations of a great ending. But then again, I'm pretty picky! So try to make my endings REALLY good.


Keli Gwyn said...

When I first began writing fiction, I stopped reading because I was afraid I'd be influenced by what I read. Now I read for precisely that reason. Reading the work of other authors inspires me.

Casey said...

I've ALWAYS been a reader. Since I was a toddler. My problem is I tend to consume books and if they don't make a huge impact, just toss it to the side, since I read sooo many. But I definitely think that if you are a reader, can articulate your thoughts, thus you can critique. Some of my best suggestions have come from my grandma and dad who are both readers, though not writers.

You've given me a good challenge...hmm Mary. Now I'm thinkin'. ;)

Jennifer K. Hale said...

I've always, always loved to read, but at this time in my life, I've been too busy to read voraciously. At least that's been my excuse. But I have to read because for all the reasons you've listed above. I recently decided to make some sacrifices (like cutting back on the few TV shows I watch) to make reading time. I've read 5 books in the past 2 weeks. I'd say that's a start. :)

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Two books at a time! You're my hero. I agree, the reading experience not only can show us what to do, but what not to do. Thanks for your encouragement. :)

I may use your quote sometime in the future, "Reading inspires me." Awesome words.

I know you are a voracious reader. I think it would take me a long time to catch up to you. Your writing also shows the fruit of all that reading. :)

Seriously, 5 books in the past 2 weeks. They must have been the cream of intriguing. Care to share the titles? Yes, I agree, you have a fantastic start. :)