Posted in writing

Lessons about writing I learned from reading

Why Should Writers Read?

lost-in-a-book-2Aspiring writers receive many pieces of advice. One is if writers want to improve their writing, then they need to read as much as possible. There’s a reason for this.

An observant reader will pick out mistakes from what they read. They will notice what makes their favorite stories work. Readers will develop likes and dislikes, and if those readers also happen to be writers, they will incorporate the lessons they learned from reading into their stories.

I’m not the most observant of readers. I have the tendency to read primarily for pleasure. Learning from what I read was a bonus. However, even I have learned a thing or two from the things I’ve read. Let me explain.

Complex characters are more interesting than flat or cookie-cutter ones

I love well-developed characters. I love reading a book and seeing how characters grow and become these awesome heroes that just decimate their enemies. Or whatever it is they’re fighting. I love it when characters change and overcome. Characters who get put through the wringer work their butts off for what they want–they deserve their reward.

Flat or cookie-cutter characters annoy me to no end. I look at them and I’m disappointed in the writer. Couldn’t that author have worked a little bit harder and given their character more depth? A history? And why do writers re-use their characters? It’s like they pick up John Doe from Book X, dye his hair and give him contacts, and then place him in Book Y. Same character and almost the same book.

Flat or cookie-cutter characters don’t change. They don’t grow. If they do, it’s because they’ve been reused and are growing in the same way. Ug. Give us readers a little bit of variety, people.

A well written character does more than just act the part. They drive the book, map out their own plots, and send conflict skyrocketing. You’re plot doesn’t make the characters–you’re characters make the plot.

If your character must be cookie-cutter or personify some stereotype, make sure you do the best job you can. And dent the cookie-cutter while you’re at it. Make this character your own. Every author is different. Make your books different, too.

That’s why I never hesitate to torture my characters. I enjoy it too, and rarely feel sorry for what I’m doing to them. In then end, I know I’ll have a better story.

If the scene doesn’t contribute, get rid of it.

I can’t tell you how many times I read a scene and think, “why is this here?” Romance novels can be bad about this–which is sad, because I love reading romances. All those sex scenes–are they really necessary? At what point to they become redundant?

I’m not a romance writer, so I can’t answer those questions. However, as a writer, I can tell you that superfluous scenes get added or left in for a variety of reasons. Maybe the writer needs to pad their word count, make the story longer. Maybe the writer honestly thought the scene necessary to the story.

It’s always easier to add to a story than to take away. Make sure whatever scenes you include in your story drive it someway. If it doesn’t do anything, do your own editing and get rid of it. This way, when the editor comes along with his or her evil red pen, they’ll have less to get rid of than before.

Avoid info-dumping at all costs

Info-dumping: the process of dumping as much information onto a page as possible.

You’ve probably run into this yourself. You’re reading a book–maybe a scifi or fantasy novel–and you’re character comes to a new place. Suddenly, you’re reading not just what the place looks like, but who built it, what he looked like and what he had for breakfast for thirty years. Info dump.

Information dumping can be boring and unnecessary. Granted, some info-dumping can be necessary for world building. Science fiction and fantasy novels typically have a lot of world building to do, and if they want their readers to understand the environment, details are necessary.

The thing is, there is a difference between info-dumping and telling readers what they need to know to understand the scene.

When world building, most of the details of that world will never make it into the book. I’ve got a file of world-building notes from my last book that is almost as big as the book itself. As an author, I will need every single one of those notes. My readers do not.

When you write your story, do not dump all the pertinent information all at once. Tell what the readers need to know and no more. Do they need to know what the temple looks like? Fine, but don’t give them so much that the information stretches on for three pages. That much detail isn’t necessary. Is it necessary for them to know why the temple is there, or about the battle that was fought at that location a hundred years ago? Fine, but put it someplace else, later on in the story–maybe during a conversation.


What did you think? Feel free to leave your comments below.

 

 

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