Monday, June 4
Read On: Do Your Read Like a Reader or a Writer?
I've had some interesting conversations lately with a few people about the difference between reading like a reader vs. reading like a writer, and how that translates to writing a novel. Because let's face it, we've all read a mega-bestseller people can't stop talking about and thought..."Eh? Really? They think this is good?"
Readers and writers read things differently.
I remember my father raving about a series. I tried it, it was painfully slow, but he told me, "Oh it doesn't really pick up until about 100 pages in, but after that it's fantastic." (For the record I never finished it)
So how does that figure in with the sage writing advice about hooking your reader at the start? Doesn't that totally contradict it?
It does. And that can drive a writer insane.
Readers focus more on story and characters. If they connect to the character and are interested in the story, they'll read on and love your book. Odds are they won't care one whit about the writing. That's not why most readers read.
Writers focus on the writing. We know what goes on behind the curtain and we notice all the things that break rules, or things that are written differently than how we'd do it. We notice what's "bad" as well as what's "good." We see how the trick was done, not the magic itself.
The hard part, is learning how to read like a reader again.
We all had it at one point (the lucky ones haven't lost it). We love books and stories or we wouldn't be writers. Trouble is, we've gotten so caught up in the technical aspects that we sometimes forget why readers read.
For the story. For the characters.
And let's face it, the business of publishing doesn't make this any easier. Queries require solid plots and good hooks. Agents are looking for writing and ideas that blow them away. Editors want great voices and plots that wow them. The business is focused on the technical because they want to put out the best possible product for their customers.
But readers just want great stories with great characters.
So how do you get back to reading like a reader? Thinking like a reader as you write?
Focus on your story and your characters.
Yeah, I know, that's like saying you learn how to run by running. Makes sense, but doesn't actually help you any. And that's what makes this so frustrating.
Let's try to make it easier.
Pick your five favorite books. List them. Write down why you love them so much. What makes them memorable. What makes you go back to them, talk about them, what makes them stick in your mind.
If you write down writing reasons, throw that book aside and pick another. Because this isn't about the writing, it's about the story.
I could easily add Harlan Ellison and Dave Duncan to my list, but both of them would be disqualified because I love their prose. I love how they write. Their stories are great too, but what I love most is the writing.
The stories that stay with me?
World War Z by Max Brooks. It scared me. Moved me. It felt real and I desperately wanted to know what happened during this war that never happened. I felt like I was reading actual interviews and stories about real people who experienced a real zombie invasion and struggled to survive.
13 Reasons Why, by Jay Asher. I needed to know what happened to Hannah. Find out why Clay was on that list. These characters became real to me and I had to know what happened with them.
Great characters. Great stories.
Look for universal themes in the books you love. Elements that every reader no matter who they are can relate to. Survival, sex, hunger, protecting your loved ones, and so on. These are usually the things that resonate with a reader and make a great story because everyone can understand them. (If you're a Save the Cat fan, Synder calls these the primal urges)
And it's not just books. Think about your favorite movies and TV shows. What draws you to them? What do you love about them? What keeps you hooked?
Forget the perfect sentence. The perfect metaphor. How dialog tags are used or who's showing and not telling. What resonates with you on an emotional level? What stories, whatever medium they're in, stay with you long after you've seen or read them?
These are the aspects you want to pay attention to. The more you can identify why you love certain books (and not for writing reasons) the more you'll be able to see how to bring those aspects out in your own stories.
What books, movies or TV shows do you love? Why? What about them resonates with you? Do your stories reflect any of those aspects?