by Joanna Maciejewska
Almost every advice out there tell aspiring writers they should read a lot. But the key is not devouring as many books as possible. It’s making reading into a lesson: studying plots, characterization, even the story’s style and vocabulary. There’s much more to reading as a writer than it is to reading as a book lover. And even though writers mostly enjoy reading as much as any other bookworm, we have other reasons to read besides enjoying a good story, whether it’s entertaining or thought-provoking.
Root out the not-so-unique ideas
You come up with an idea for a romance between an angel and a human, or for a group of adventurers to journey to the Bottomless Pit of Cliches where they’ll destroy a Generic Artifact. But it’ll only seem fresh and unique if you haven’t read many books in your genre. You can assume that great books out there inspired multiple more and less original copies. Although there’s nothing wrong with inspiration or picking a popular topic, knowing the most used tropes in the genre will help to shape a story that avoids the pitfalls of mindless imitation.
Learn the rules
Every genre has its little quirks, the do-s and don’t-s. Even though it’s not necessary to always follow the rules (quite to the contrary, some great works blossomed from trying out new things), knowing they exist and how they function within the genre will not only allow to bend (or break) them, but will also help to understand what genre readers expect from a book. A romance that doesn’t end with happy ever after (or a “happy for now”) likely won’t get many praises from romance readers. A murder mystery in which the murderer is never found might not be what the fans of the genre are looking for.
Get the ideas
Reading within one’s genre not only can help recognize the cliches, but also supports coming up with new, original ideas. Many good ideas are tweaks or opposites of the old ones, and reading about lush, interesting settings definitely enhances imagination and helps brain to come up with exciting images. In the future, they will become equally exciting stories. A sentence or a scene in a book might bring unexpected idea. That idea will grow into a plot or into an interesting character that will become their own, original fiction.
Study the style
If while you’re reading, you’re not stopping every once a while to ponder a stylistic trick, an interesting choice of words, or an original metaphor, you might be doing it wrong. Of course, sometimes the story is just too good and the sentences flow carrying us through the scenes. But every once a while something will give the writer a pause. Sometimes it’s a good pause of amusement or amazement, of a linguistic fascination or reflection on how well a character was portrayed in less than a paragraph. And sometimes it’s crunching over the grammar rules and figuring out odd wording. Both are useful for a writer: we learn how to do things and what to avoid.
Remember why you write
Most of the writers are avid readers. They started writing because they enjoyed reading the stories and wanted to share their own. But writing is much more difficult and time consuming than reading, it brings doubts and many negative thoughts along, so it’s nice to remind oneself of the end goal: of enjoying the story hidden within the words.
Did I miss something? Are there any other reasons for writers to read? Why do you read? What do you take away from your chosen reading?
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science-fiction writer who was born in Poland, spent a little under a decade in Ireland, and now resides in Arizona. She had stories published in Polish magazines (“Nowa Fantastyka”, “Science-Fiction Fantasy i Horror”) and anthologies (Fabryka Słów, Replika, Solaris), and she also writes in English (“Fiction Vortex”, “Phantaxis”, “The Worlds of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror”). You can find out more about her and her stories at melfka.com or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.