Read to Write
Reading is the inspiration for many writers to begin their own, writing career. For me it was reading and meeting an author when I was five. That’s what I want to do, was my childhood thought. Creating stories seemed like such a magical way to live a life.
As an adult, the hard truth hit that having a story idea and creating a story is a path fraught with pitfalls. When I read my first short stories now, I am embarrassed at how they lacked story. Yep, those old tropes like a beginning, middle, and end, not to mention character revelation, action, description, and a story line that engages the reader.
Yes, there were scenes that even today can bring me to tears, but the story just did not hang together.
What’s a writer to do? Learn story.
The best and most lasting way to learn story is to go into other stories. For fiction writers, there are three excellent ways to experience story.
- Read books
- Listen to books
- Watch films
However many posts (like this one, alas), software and online tools you gather they won’t help you as much as diving into other stories.
Focus On Good Writers In and Out of Your Genre
Reading books from the perspective of a writer is much different than as a reader. Once you begin the journey of writing you begin to notice things that an average reader does not.
- The beginning – the first sentence, the hook, and the setup
- Character arcs – not just the protagonist, but every character
- Description – all five senses and what you need to fill in as the reader
- The all-important Middle – how does the author keep your attention? What are the tension elements?
- The antagonist – how is the antagonist developed
- Point of view and why the author chose 1st person or 3rd
- Tone – is it even throughout? Does it match the genre?
- The ending
Yes, every element.
As you keep reading, you begin to start comparing your writing–in a good way. Would you use that plot device? Would your character have that flaw?
As you continue reading with a critical eye, you begin to see how writers, even major writers, have flaws. This is where it drags. I don’t believe that character would naturally perform that action or say those words.
The more you read, the better you understand story.
Audiobooks and the Moments in Time
I used to have a book in different rooms–the bedroom, the kitchen, the living room. Now that I listen to audiobooks, I usually have one reading book in the bedroom and listen to audio books on my mobile device.
Applications like audible allow you to listen to books with some very dynamic readers. As you listen to the story, you can bookmark a passage with annotations like fight scene, forest description, interior monolog, deep point of view, etc. These bookmarks help later when you are constructing a certain passage in your story.
Because audio books are on a mobile device you can listen while cooking, gardening, walking the dog, driving and many other activities of daily life that would keep you from sitting down with a book.
I’ve increased my fiction “reading” since I started using audio books several years ago.
The Basics of Story: Movies
Screenwriters struggle with story basics like how to keep the middle from sagging the same way novelists do. Because films are a collaborative project scripts are the skeleton for the story that allows for interpretation from directors, actors, set designers, lighting engineers, etc. But, story basics are key to a good film.
Unlike a novel which may take hours or days to read from beginning to end, a movie is two hours or less of time. And you can spend this time with friends and family as a diversion from your solitary writing time.
Those two hours are filled with sparks for ideas: plot twists, supporting character arcs, subplots, character reveals, and the crucial elements of story getting from the beginning to the end.
The same is true for film as well as books, watch in your genre and outside of your genre to see how story is constructed.
Books, Audio Books, Film
As writers, we can always improve our craft. Learning from other writers builds an accumulation of skill points that cannot be matched. Balance your writing time by learning from others.
If you are a first time writer, developmental editing can help you strengthen your story structure. Check out my content editing service on Reedsy.