Monday, November 7, 2016


I learned to write by reading the kind of books I wished I'd written. ~  Barbara Kingsolver 

Do you read books in the genre you write? Or are you afraid of other author’s work bleeding into yours? Perhaps you feel it might interfere with your personal writerly voice? I know I used to worry about that, but no longer.

When I read a book that makes me think, I wish I’d written that, I finish reading it for pleasure then re-read it for study. In other words, the novel becomes a textbook. Below are the things I make note of:

  • What about the book appealed to me? What made me keep turning the page? How could I incorporate this into my writing? 
  • Character development and dialogue. Jan Karon's characters are so authentic. Their dialogue is so rich that she really doesn't need tags. 
  • Descriptions and interesting analogies. Richard Paul Evans is the master at this.
  • Ways of showing instead of telling. Sue Monk Kidd's, The Secret Life of Bees, made me feel the characters instead of reading them. 

Conversely, when I read a particularly bad novel, I study it too and ask myself the opposite questions from the above. Such as: What about this novel bothered me? Why did the characters irritate or bore me? What made the descriptions stiff and the analogies ridiculous? How did the author tell instead of show?

Oftentimes, we can pick out these things in other’s books more than our own. However, when we read these poorly written novels, we can recognize our mistakes. This has happened to me more times than I care to admit. But for you, I will.

Once I was asked to judge a historical novel contest. One particular book’s heroine had me rolling my eyes, and exclaiming, “Oh come on, really?” About midway it dawned on me, my heroine was a lot like the one in the book I was reading. Needless to say, I changed those irritating qualities in my manuscript.

Great writers read. Don’t worry about their work seeping into yours. Trust your unique voice. One day, someone will read your novel and think, I wish I’d written that!  
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