Reading to Impact Your Writing (And Can Watching Movies Be a Business Expense?)
This is the first in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers Association. I will be hosting five other indie writers here, introducing you to their thoughts about their craft, the books they’ve written, and their websites.
Most writers I know read voraciously, pausing only when they are in the final throes of getting their next work published—editing and re-editing, hiring beta readers, formatting and re-formatting to please our Kindle Direct Publishing masters, trying to figure out what the error message “Your fonts are not properly embedded” means. The list seems to go on forever. But until that point, writers READ.
Sometimes we read in our own genre, “to check out the competition.” I remember that once I had created the fictional Oregon coast town of Driftwood for my mystery novels, a friend said I should read Scott William Carter’s The Gray and Guilty Sea. I did, and I came away thinking, “Wow! He nailed it. I hope I can write like that when I grow up.”
At a book signing not so long ago, I shared a table with Chris Patchell, who also writes mystery and suspense novels. I bought her book, In the Dark, and was blown away by the breathless quality of her prose. I decided I wanted that in my stories as well.
We often read other genres, especially with an eye toward pacing, character development, and style of writing. We make decisions about what to emulate and what to avoid, what works and what doesn’t, how best to show, rather than tell, making conversation sound natural, and managing point of view.
Sometimes the books we read have an unconscious effect on our writing. Remember Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and her sentences that went on for a half-page and more? I was busy with a volume of short stories at the time, and when I went into editing the second draft, I was aghast at how long the sentences were in my story, “The Porthole.” That had not been intentional and I was thankful to have caught it before I published it.
Reading can have another, long-lasting effect on our writing, one not so much stylistic or structural, as “constitutional.” The reading I did in my late teens and throughout my twenties changed the way I think. Back then, I had immersed myself in existentialism, devouring books by Camus and Sartre, and their precursors, Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky and Nietzsche. Those philosophical works have shaped me, for better or worse, and influence the way my characters think and move. Acts of will, decision-making, spiritual and ethical motivations are a part of my characters and make them more real (I hope!).
While we’re at it, what about movies and how they impact our writing? I love movies, all kinds of movies, from dainty, art-house oeuvres to slam-bang shoot ’em ups. It’s a vice I swear I inherited from my mother. And the effect? I want my stories to be visual. I want my readers to say, “Reading your book was like watching a movie, except I could feel it and smell it and taste it, too.” The challenge becomes involving all the senses in the story, so the descriptive parts are not just atmospheric, but transporting. I find myself thinking in terms of scenes, rather than chapters, listening to my characters as they strut their stuff, wondering what they’re going to do next. Yes, often I don’t know what my characters will say or do next, and before you decide to call a shrink because I’ve gone over the edge and need a psychiatric evaluation, stay tuned for a future blog when I will talk more about my approach to the writing process.
“I am not crazy!” he insisted to no avail, as the EMTs strapped him onto the gurney and wheeled him out to the waiting ambulance…
Watch for the next post in this series by me:
“Advice for New Writers” — at https://conniejjasperson.com/
Next week I’ll be hosting Joyce Reynolds-Ward, who will be sharing her thoughts on “Self-Editing, Grammar, and Beta Readers.” Stay tuned!