I once read, I can’t remember where (although I want to say it was Stephen King) that writers should read a book twice. The first time as a reader…the second time as a writer.
I have found that advice invaluable (whoever said it) and I use that technique with everything I read. I will read a book and see if I like it. If I do, I then reread it and find out what the writer did to lure me into their world so effectively. Most of the time, I’ve enjoyed a book or story because of the characters…I love a good hero or a despicable villain. The plot is important, of course, but if you don’t have great characters with lots of depth and layers, I find it hard to get into the story.
So, if the writer got my attention, I reread it to find out how they did it! I have learned a lot from seeing how they develop the back-stories for their characters, and how they show their character’s strength and weaknesses…and most important…when they reveal them. I also pay more attention to the rhythm of the piece…how do they keep the plot from dragging and losing my interest.
If I don’t like the book or the story, I still go back and reread it anyway. Why? Because, I look for how the writer wandered off and went astray. If their characters were shallow, dull or lacked the ability to make me love or hate them, I sit down and think about what I would do to fix the problems.
Sometimes, I go as far as to redevelop them on paper. If the plot seemed to drag on, was predictable and boring or totally unbelievable, I again go back and briefly write down some things that I would have done to fix the problem.
Whether I loved the book or yawned through the whole thing, I use the writers successes and failures and learn..learn..learn from them.
So if you find a book that you love…go back and find out why! If you don’t think the writer captured the reader’s attention, look for the reasons and think about what you would have done differently! It’s a great exercise in writing.
But, one thing you must do if you ever hope to be successful in your writing is to read…read…read. And, if you find yourself saying, “I could do better than that” then sit down and prove it. I’m not recommending you rewrite the book or story (that’s plagiarism and most definitely frowned upon) but I am encouraging you to learn from other writers…both the good and the not so good.
Don’t just read the bestsellers. Read some of the less successful books or stories and think about how the writer might have done this or added that to make it a better work. You’ll find it’s a great writing exercise and you’ll be able to develop your own plots or characters without falling into the same pitfalls as the unsuccessful writers.
So, when you pick up that book, read it like a reader to see if it works for you. Then, read it like a writer to find out why it does…or doesn’t! But, whatever you do…READ!
Yours In Writing,