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Why Reading is Good For Writing

February 27, 2015

writersrreadersI couldn’t imagine being a writer without being a reader.

Reading makes me a better writer. I know it does. Here’s why:

1. I learn by example.

I see plotting, characterizing, description, dialogue. I see it over and over and over again, every time I read a book, until the essence of each settles into my bones.

2. I see when it’s done properly…and I see when it isn’t!

I will never forget tossing a mystery across the room in frustration…because they never solved the mystery by the end of the book. BLASPHEMY! What kind of self proclaimed mystery novel doesn’t solve the mystery?

(Note to self: never, ever do that. Your reader will hate you.)

I have also rolled my eyes at corny dialogue, skimmed over too much description, and flipped past pages of dithering that didn’t seem essential to the plot.

I see what doesn’t work.

On the other hand…

  • I have cried my eyes out because a character I loved got hurt.
  • I’ve stayed up too late to read ‘one more chapter’.
  • I’ve had to turn the lights on because a book scared me too much (King’s The Shining, of course).
  • I have bought books for people…because ‘you just have to read this’.

When done right, a book can have impact.

I take these experiences to heart as a writer.

I see what works.

And so the goal, within the parameters of my own writing ability, is to aim my arrow at a similar target.

3. I take #1 and #2 and apply it to my genre. 

People sometimes think that because I write about the Regency period that must be my favourite genre. They think I own the I ‘heart’ Mr. Darcy tote bag, and The Jane Austen Cookbook (wait, I actually do have that).

See?

See?

Listen, I enjoy Jane Austen as much as the next person, and will happily argue which is the best book (Persuasion, hands down) and which is the best movie adaptation (Persuasion, 1995). But I am not a Janeite.

I am also not a Georgette Heyer fan (I think her books are boring. I know. BLASPHEMY for a Regency writer…but I do!)

Truth be told, Regency is not my preferred genre. I don’t get all ‘grabby hands’ just because someone’s wearing an Empire-waisted gown on the cover.

Frankly, I’m not that interested in Mr. Darcy, Vampyre or the innumerable Regency romances.

However, if it is a mystery…I am all over it.

I love mysteries and I read mysteries all the time. It is my go-to feel good book. Even the serious ones, like those by Donna Leon.

I’ll read mysteries starring supernatural beings (like those by  Juliette Blackwell).

Mysteries set in modern day India (like the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall).

Mysteries set in 1830’s Istanbul (Jason Goodwin’s Yashim series) or Ancient Rome (Lindsey Davis’ brilliant Falco series) or England in 1940 (Susan Elia MacNeal’s Maggie Hope series).

And, of course, mysteries set in the Regency period (Kate Ross’ Julian Kestrel Mysteries).

It’s no coincidence that I am writing a mystery series myself.

I read what I write and I write what I read.  Or perhaps, I should say: I read what I love and I write what I love to read. 

I assume most writers feel the same? Don’t you agree that writing & reading are BFFs?

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