The novice writer is advised to “read, read, read, read, and read more.” It’s very good advice. That’s often where the counsel ends. It’s left to the writer to absorb the mystic and elusive factors that got the author’s book published. In some rare cases an individual’s instincts allow him or her to profit from what they read without consciously searching. Often it does not. Consider something in addition to learning by random osmosis. Sleeping next to a copy of War and Peace, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Pride and Prejudice, a Stephanie Plum novel, or The Notebook won’t transfer Tolstoy, Angelou, Capote, Austin, Evanovich, or Spark’s writing abilities to you.
Consider developing a reading plan. If you’re going to obtain the proficiency required to compete in today’s tough market, you need to know where to improve your work. Critic groups are helpful in learning problems you need to solve. Comments from agents or editors are great if you can get them. Define areas you’d like to improve and see how the accomplished writer does it. Your plan will be different from everyone else. Let’s look at some items you might wish to consider.
- Understanding genre norms for your chosen interest area(s) is something that will enhance your works acceptance. See how established authors stay within genre confines.
- Attribution. Learning how to define and identify dialogue is an art that can be the difference in the way readers, agents, and publishers perceive your writing. Reading gives you “dialogue” perspective – see how authors do this seamlessly.
- Learn to say a lot with as few powerful words as possible. “Overwriting” is a very common problem that kills pace and message. Too many adjectives, etc. can leave readers scratching their heads. Under-describing is better than the reverse. Observe how and when authors make you fill in the blanks.
- Pacing and structure are things that you can learn from reading the type of writing you’re pursuing. Literary fiction and action/fantasy are worlds apart. Reading will educate you on the differences.
- Observe the rhythm the writer creates with his writing. It’s the thing that keeps readers turning pages. Look carefully and you’ll see the devices and timing that’s used to keep you engrossed. Does the author take you forward for two steps then back one? Does something happen every eight pages? They may not all be clockwork, but you’ll see the pulse. Look for how a rhythm is forged by the author.
- The list of plan items is infinite. You have to provide your own. The very process of reviewing your work and determining what can be improved is instructive.
I try not to carry the dissection of works I’m reading to an extreme. Reading should remain a pleasurable experience. But, having a check list of things you’d like to improve in your work pops into consciousness while reading if you prepare a plan. Try it. Many of you will find it’s a worth-while effort.
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