Today I thought I would go into a topic that’s important for prospective writers, especially those who want to publish indie, to understand. A lot of people have the wish to write fiction and tell stories, or tell their own story in a memoir. Some of these people don’t read much, and they don’t see that as a problem because they view reading and writing as separate things.
The truth is, reading and writing are intimately related, especially if you write fiction. If you want to write well, you must read every day as well as write every day, even if you only read for fifteen minutes or half an hour. Here’s why:
- READING EXPANDS YOUR VOCABULARY. This is huge. This is so, so important. I have tutored children in reading, and I remember in particular a seventh grader who did not have the habit of reading at home and developing that skill. As a result, there were many words in books appropriate for his age and grade level that he simply had never heard before. He had a small vocabulary base because he didn’t read. I’ve also noticed that even in my second language, Spanish, my vocabulary multiplied and multiplied the more I read Spanish. As an author, you need to have multiple ways to describe common sentiments and objects if you want your writing not to feel stiff and repetitive. Sure, you can pick up a thesaurus, but that always seems stilted and awkward to me. Much better to have the word come naturally to mind, because you’ve seen it used in a similar instance and you know the word makes sense for what you mean it to do.
- READING GIVES YOU A KNACK FOR PACING. Nothing’s worse that boring your reader. It’s also bad to rush the action without giving your readers a chance to gain their footing in your story. As the writer, you know your characters, so it can be hard to judge whether pacing is off, but having a history of reading well-paced fiction will help you understand when something’s not quite right.
- READING SHOWS YOU WHAT’S BEEN DONE IN YOUR GENRE. An example: if, like me, you want to write fantasy, then you have to know what kinds of ideas are fresh and exciting, what is standard and expected, and what is trite, overdone, and boring. You can only know this by reading fantasy. A lot of fantasy. You’ll start to notice connections: a lot of fantasy novels have an organized religion of some type, so maybe I should consider giving my world one. It adds a sense of credibility and depth. A lot of fantasy novels have rogues and royal courts. You need to know that kind of setting and those kinds of characters interest your target audience. You should write for you, of course–not to make money or a name for yourself–but you still want your tale to entertain other people.
- READING GIVES YOU EXAMPLES OF GOOD CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT. The more you read, the more you realize good characters show you who they are through their words and actions. A narrator doesn’t tell you what their personalities are. A narrator doesn’t tell you “This woman’s afraid of heights.” If it matters that she’s afraid of heights, then she’ll have to confront that fear, and her response–her sweating, her shaking, her comments to others who might be with her–will make that clear for her. If she’s got a vain streak, then her thoughts and interactions with others should reveal that.
- READING SOMETHING YOU DON’T LIKE WILL TEACH YOU WHAT NOT TO DO. For me as a writer, few things are as helpful as reading something I don’t like and then contemplating WHY I didn’t like it. Did I find it boring? Then was the pacing too slow for me, or did the characters simply not interest me? If I couldn’t find myself caring about the characters, why? Where they dry and dull? Were they well developed but simply people in the real world that I’d want nothing to do with? Was it hard to envision the world I read about because it was described poorly? This kind of awareness of all that goes into a good piece of fiction is vital if you want to write good fiction, and you can only develop that if you read.