Fundamental to becoming a writer is reading.
When I first began my career, I wrote for horsemanship magazines and publishers. I spent a lot of time reading those publications. Of course, I spent a lot of time with horses as well.
When I decided to switch from nonfiction to fiction, I was already engaged in the pleasure of reading novels. I read whatever I could get my hands on . . . provided the content was not offensive. However, my purpose for reading changed as I began to explore the idea of writing fiction.
Here are some things I took note of:
- The genre. I thought I wanted to write allegorical fantasy. I love symbolism and so forth so this seemed a logical direction. Except that fantasy isn't a big seller. I avoided romances (the market is flooded with them) mainly because I find pure romance tiresome. I love reading mysteries and suspense but feel I don't have the background to write such stories. In the end, after reading many different genres, I found myself settling into historicals as a good fit for my writing. I love reading them, and I love history.
- The publisher. I note what type of stories each publisher uses. Even their unique 'voice' is noteworthy. The type of books they publish reflect their company's culture, worldview, and personality. For example, Love Inspired books are very different than books published by Thomas Nelson. Bethany House books are different than Harvest House books.
- The date of publication. Writing methods have changed over the years. Great stories are still great stories. That is to say, a good plot and good characters will always be around, but how the plot and those characters are presented on the page through grammar, diction, paragraph layout, etc. will differ. Over twenty years ago I used to gobble up Grace Livingston Hills books. Today, I can barely get passed the first page. The writing style has changed over the years and so have I. If I want to be published in today's world, then I'd better study today's novels.
- Author. Believe it or not, I'm more interested in new authors than those well-established. Why? Because those people are my competition.
- Voice. I mentioned that with regards to the publisher, but author's voice is what makes a bestseller a bestseller. True, I don't read too many bestsellers. However, I will pick one up now and again to see if I can identify the writer's voice. (Psst. Something I've noted: most bestselling novelists break those writing rules you're always hearing about . . . I want to know why a bestselling novelist succeeded at this where another did not).
- Cover. What appeals to me. That's really what studying the cover is all about. Occasionally I have found a good story hidden behind a bad cover . . . but truth is, that's rare.
- Backcover copy. I have to be able to write one for my one manuscripts so why not study what is already out there? You learn a lot about both publisher and author by analyzing how the backcover copy is presented. Words used. Structure. Presentation.
While reading a good book is always a pleasure for me, I rarely read for pleasure anymore. The analytical side of me enjoys a good book as well as the emotional/illogical side. So I pick up a book, and I note whether the writer uses deep pov or head hops or uses lengthy prose or spends all of chapter one developing the character and doesn't get to the action of the story until chapter two and so on.
When I close a book, I evaluate how it affected me. If my gut rotted half way through because I found falsehoods and abhorrent philosophies through the story you can bet I'm never going back to that author and will probably never study his work as an example of good writing. If I'm wiping tears from my eyes, bending my knee in prayer because the Holy Spirit touched me through the story, you can be confident I'll be going over the elements of the story to find out why it had such a profound affect on me. And in a very rare case, I might even read the book a second time from 'covereth to covereth.'
One more note: I don't like to read fluff. I don't want to model my work to that form of writing. So when attending a writer's conference, you'll find I avoid any workshops taught by those authors who write what I consider fluff, and I will turn to the more heady writers . . . the ones whose work has touched my soul.
***If you read or write stories that are for pure entertainment. I don't think you are a lesser person. That's just not what I like. I'm confident that you hold just as much importance to God as the one who writes or reads very deep and insightful novels. He loves us all. He is our creator. And He knows what He has given each of us to write (or read). Do what He has called you to do and do it well.***