Last week we talked about a cure for writer’s block. Writing. Practice was my theme. This week, I’m talking about reading. Reading for pleasure, reading to study the craft of writing, reading to find out what works and what doesn’t.
I have another blog that I haven’t been on since 2013. On that blog, which is a lot of venting my joys and frustrations of being a new homeschool mom, I used to interview new authors. One of the questions I used to ask them was “What’s your favorite kinds of books to read?” I was shocked when most of them replied, “I don’t like to read very much.”
What? Seriously? You don’t like books, but you think you’re a good writer? You don’t like to read, but you desperately want others to read what you’ve written?
Faithful readers, just for the record, I love books. I love to be read to, I love to read braille books, and if I could see, I’d love to read print books. I love to tell stories, write stories, hear stories; I love books.
A doctor doesn’t go to school for several years just because there is nothing else to do; they go to learn. A musician doesn’t listen to music because they are bored; they listen to learn. A writer must read in order to learn.
I used to read solely for pleasure. Now, I often can’t finish a book because they are too predictable. I used to love romances, but now I like several genres. For a time, all I read were Westerns. Now, I’d rather watch Westerns on TV. My favorite authors have changed over the years, my favorite styles of writing have changed, but if there is one thing that has stayed the same, it is characters make the story. If I love your characters, I could care less if you are a terrible writer. 🙂
Some favorite characters of mine include: Jamie and Clair from Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series, Conner and Reese from Lori Wick’s “Just Above a Whisper”, Lavinia and Belle from Kathleen Grissom’s “The Kitchen House”, Julia and Phoebe from Lynn Austin’s “Fire by Night”, Cameron and Jade from Kristin Heitzmann’s “Free Fall”, Sam and Amy from Peggy Hoy’s “Classified”, Huck Finn from Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, Laura Ingalls Wilder from the “Little House” books, Tarzan, who needs no further explanation, Clark and Marty from Janette Oke’s “Love Comes Softly” series and many, many more that will not come to mind just now.
As you can see, the characters are as different as night and day, but there is something about each one of them that leaps off the page. I don’t reread books because I forgot the ending. I reread to spend time with the characters once more. Sometimes, I just get in the mood to be with a particular character, and so I download the audio book and listen away. I have even been known to fast forward through parts of the book just to get to the parts where my characters are the most active.
The books that stick with me are the ones I cannot predict. Recently, I read “her One and Only” by Becky Wade, in which a big football player’s body guard happens to be a woman. It was unpredictable, and I finished it. Another unpredictable book that I would have never read if I had known what it was about before listening was “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe”. But, I didn’t know anything about it before listening, and I found myself laughing and crying to the extent that I thought I was going to wake up my husband snoring beside me in bed. That book talks about lesbians, women’s issues, love, abuse, aging, crime, and it’s seemingly higgledy-piggledy way of jumping from one character’s head to another and one time period to another was what kept me reading. Heads up, faithful readers, you don’t have to agree with a character’s lifestyle in order to enjoy a story.
My point with all this is that the more one reads, the better one will write. Study your favorites. Don’t mimic them, but take from them what you can use. I try to tell how my characters are feeling through the world around them. Here is an example. This is from one of my current works in progress.
[ After saddling the horse, Cam mounted him and led him out into the fresh, morning air. He was leaning down to close the gate behind him, when he heard a voice from the shadows.
“Mr. Delaney? Uh…Cam?”
He paused and scanned the path to the house.
“Miss Rachel, is that you?”
“Yes. I’m sorry for disturbing you, but I was hoping to have a moment to speak with you in private.”
Dismounting, he rested a hand on the top rail of the gate and waited as she approached.
Did Rob know she was out here?
“He hasn’t awakened, yet, but I couldn’t sleep, and like I said, I wanted a moment with you.”
“What can I do for you?”
She reached the fence and gripped the wood, her hand not far from his. Her blue gaze was direct, but her fingers on the fence rail fidgeted.
“I was wondering if… Well, I hoped there might be a way you could…could talk Rob out of…going. You’ve known him longer than I, and perhaps he would listen to you if…”
Cam forced his eyes from her face…her oh so expressive face and concentrated on the strands of crimson and violet at the edge of the horizon. The tendrils of color would disappear when the sun rose, but for now they stretched between night and day, linking them, yet holding them back from ever touching.
When he looked back she was biting her lip and clasping her hands together at her waist.]
I am curious what you think I’m trying to say. Feel free to comment.
Another key factor in whether a book is good or not is if the reader can identify with the character. An author might have an excellent book, but if I don’t connect with the characters, I won’t read it. This is the reason there are many different authors in many different genres; people are different and so are characters. You have a voice, and I have a voice, and while those voices might be similar, they will never be the same. They weren’t meant to be the same. If you want to find your voice, read, read read, then pray, pray pray. After that, go write, write, write. 🙂
Do you want to be a good romance author? Read Romances. Do you want to be a good blogger? Read blogs. Journalist? Read news articles. Suspense? Read suspense. Then, take your own experiences, and use them in your next book.
When all else fails, trust in the Master Storyteller. His book is a bestseller, in case you didn’t know. Go read what He has to say. It will change your life.