I’ve been reading quite a bit lately. My goal was to read at least forty books this year. I’m already at twenty which is a lot for me.
It dawned on me mid way through one of my latest reads that I was analyzing what I wouldn’t do as an author. I was in the middle of a fantasy book that was taking too long to get going (The first major action doesn’t happen until over 200 pages in.) Don’t get me wrong, I understand that fantasy, in particular, is granted some leeway when it comes to world building. This writer’s characters were well done. The writing itself wasn’t bad at all. Yet, I found myself yearning for action to drive the story along.
Another book I tried reading took fifty or so pages to build up to a significant action scene only to have the POV character fall and hit their head. They were knocked unconscious and woke up five hours later. Not only did the character miss what happened, readers did too. I felt duped, misled. Why build up to an action scene only to skip it? As a reader I was annoyed and frustrated, so much so that I stopped reading.
Many authors suggest up and coming writers read often, and widely. I never quite understood the whole reason…until now.
As we grow as writers, our skill level should increase. When we pick up a book we should be able to see what makes it work, or not work. Granted this will vary from writer to writer, as no two people will view any book the same light. If I can pick out why I don’t like an author’s choices in their book, I can avoid those things in my own work. It’s logical to assume that if I can avoid things I perceive as negative, my work, and voice, should strengthen.
For me, I wouldn’t want my readers to slog through two hundred pages of world building without any significant action. I also would never build up to relevant action only to have it take place “off camera”. It’s easier for me to see what makes for a good read both technically and structurally now that I’ve been writing for a while. I’ve always been a stickler for details. Now it seems my comprehension is also expanding.
I’ve always been a big believer that writers should never stop learning. Reading can certainly help. Grab a book. Discover why you like, or don’t like, it. Look at it structurally. Pick out it’s strengths and weaknesses. Ask yourself how that information can benefit your writing? Understanding can lead to a breakthrough. Apply what you learn to your writing. You should see improvement.
If we want to be included in the same breath as some of our favorite authors, we must not be afraid to walk among them. That means analyzing someone like Dean Koontz, Stephen King, or Anne Rice. Don’t be afraid. Pull on your big kid pants. Dive into a book. Walk among the greats. Hopefully one day we’ll be lucky enough to be counted as one of them.
NOTE – I’m not suggesting copying our favorite author’s style of voice. Most inexperienced writers try that at some point and their words always come across as disingenuous. Copying a particular style or voice won’t help anyone discover their own voice. They only way to work on your voice is to sit down and write. Your words. Your story. Your way. Rinse and repeat. You’ll likely be frustrated. Work through it. Learn as you go. Things will get better with time and experience.