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Studying The Craft of Writing: Reading to Learn

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If you read a lot of blog articles about writing, then you’ve probably noticed that many writers state that you should read often; read other novels that is. By reading other novels you gain insight into how other writer’s write. If you watch the masters in your genre, then you will gain insight into how they have been able to write best sellers or just great books.

I understand the logic behind the idea. Every serious professional needs to have a mentor or two. They need to look around them to see what their peers are doing, figure out what works and what doesn’t, especially if they want to produce best sellers. If your intent is to write a best seller, then reading today’s current best sellers is a start in figuring out what the reader likes.

I love reading novels so following this advice is easy for me. I have, however, run into a problem– how can I separate reading to learn from reading for fun? I’m reading Hour Game by David Baldacci, and I find myself now and then remembering that I also need to read to learn.  If the book is good, then I get caught up in the plot and the character’s lives. I forget to study the structure, the plot, character development, description.

However, I need to do those exact things while reading if I want to improve and learn. For example, today’s readers are quite different from those 10 years ago; possibly even five years ago. I read a blog article where the author discussed “description.” That is a big topic today. If you look at what types of books the general public is reading and what comments they are making, then you’ve noticed that long descriptive passages (even minute) about the character or scenery, for example, seem to not fare well with today’s readers. The attention span isn’t the same as it was a few years ago. Are the writers of today, especially those with a fan base, cutting down on description?

Another popular writing topic is “show, don’t tell.” Some authors believe that we belittle the reader by telling them what is going on. We are insulting their intelligence. Instead of ending a quote by inserting, “…, Tom said.” We should be showing them how he felt or what he thought.  Is that what authors are really trying to achieve with their writing? Is this what the general reading public is thirsty for? Some writers will state that we shouldn’t abandon description. They may even say that we’re too lacking – we need more! Others will say that we don’t have to “show” from page one to the end of the novel. Actually, after reading a few current best sellers, I might have to agree with them.

There are as many writing tips on the internet as there are opinions, and we can learn a great deal from them. I’m just not quite sure how much attention I should spend on them; besides the reading one. What I mean is – There are people that love more description, as well as people (especially with low attention spans) that love being told what’s happening. Maybe none of this matters as long as the plot and characters are interesting. Maybe what’s most important is evolving the craft of individual style…while waiting for the flock of readers that will appreciate it.





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