Tag Archives: reading

Reading as a writer

Stephen King, along with many other writers, is firm in saying that if you want to write, you also have to read a lot. So what can you learn as a writer who reads?

 

There are many books around that teach you who to write better, but one of the best ways to learn is to see the advice in action. You want to master Point of View? Study books to see how they handle it. I have a list of books that I turn to when I want to see how to handle First Person, for example, to see how they deal with transitions between the present tense and the past, or to see how they make dialogue sound like fiction and not memoir, or avoid telling instead of showing. You want to see how books handle description? You want to see how they handle pace? How long a chapter usually is in that genre? How long the book is? Find a book and read it as a writer.

 

There are different levels of reading. Firstly, you learn to read for information and entertainment. Then you start to notice the little tricks that the writer uses to create an effect, or to make a point. Then you reach the point where you can start to use those tricks yourself. How can you expect to use those tricks if you’ve never seen them in use?

 

It’s also useful to make a note of books that use specific techniques – for example, The Martian is a great book to study. It makes use of first person via logs. It makes use of third person when it needs to. And, of course, it was a self-published book that then attracted a contract and a huge movie.

 

Beta reading can work too; sometimes it’s even more informative to see a less polished piece of work, and try to figure out what the issue is. But don’t assume that beta reading is enough. The wider you read, the better, and enjoy what you read. Just keep at least half an eye on the tricks the author uses, and think about whether you can adapt them for your own use.

 

Writing books – On Writing

On WritingOn Writing by Stephen King is probably one of the most famous books around on the topic of writing. I first read it years ago, and while working through books for this blog I decided it was about time I read it again.

 

I was half-expecting to slog through the autobiography section, but found that King tells stories in such an entertaining fashion that I was laughing out loud. It’s not a complete story of his life, but some of the highlights and stories from his childhood and early experiences as a writer.

 

The second section, The Toolbox, starts off with an anecdote about his uncle’s old toolbox, and develops into a description of what he sees as the writer’s toolbox: the essential tools that every writer should take with them everywhere, in order to be able to use whatever tool best does any given job. Here, the importance of issues such as grammar and vocabulary are discussed.

 

The third section, On Writing, contains more general advice on writing, including King’s own writing processes. You might or might not agree with all his points – he is actively against plotting, preferring to allow the story to develop from the situation and characters, for example – but you will find them enlightening and thought-provoking.

 

The fourth section, On Living: A Postscript, describes his experiences on being hit by a van and badly injured. Again, King brings the story to life with a few vivid details, and the account is very readable.

 

The final sections include an example of the first and second draft of an excerpt, with detailed explanations as to why he made the changes he did, and a detailed list of recommended books. King is a prolific reader – one thing he is clear on is that if you don’t have the time to read a lot, you’ll never be able to write successfully – and the list comprises fiction books he has read and recommends.

 

If you take nothing else from this book, you will get an idea of the dedication and hard work it took King to get where he is today, and you’ll have a much better understanding of what life as a successful writer is like and how to get there. I completely understand why this is one of the books that is constantly recommended to writers and would-be writers.