Monday, March 19, 2012

Writing Help - Want to learn to write? Then READ!

I volunteer writing advice on a number of websites. I do it to 'pay it back around' for the help I've gotten over the years from various people. One of the things I've noticed lately is a number of questions about how to get started writing. Now, these aren't questions about how to get published or writing a query or even sticky plot points, but how to start at all.

That leaves me stratching my head a little because the obvious answer is: sit down and start. But I can tell that the question is far deeper than the obvious. The phrasing gives away that the person really has no concept of how a book is created. Every one of them claims to have a great idea for a book, but can't figure out how to transform that idea into actual writing.

Several have asked whether I could recommend a good online or college course. Unfortunately, I have no idea and even after investigation of what's out there, it's nearly impossible to judge whether the teacher is appropriate for the genre the author wants. I've recommended watching for workshops from known authors, but really, it occurred to me that the answer might be much simpler than courses.

I ask if the person READS. Most of them say sure, they read. But often it turns out they don't actually read what they want to write. Nor, I discover, do they actually read for more than simple pleasure.

So, let me state outright that if someone out there reading this wants to write but has no idea how to start, I fully recommend picking up a dozen (yes, a full DOZEN) books in the genre of choice that you want to WRITE---the one that your great idea is pushing you to put down on paper---and READ them.

Read them all fully, cover to cover. Don't give up and toss one or five down as a "don't like." See, someone liked it or it wouldn't be for sale. On the other hand, if you love it, WHY? Is it the characters, or the plot or the world (secondary characters, town/city descriptions, etc.?) If you hate it, likewise: WHY? Where did the author lose you?

Then read them again and this time, take notes. Does the author do something exceptionally well, but other things not so much? Grab some sticky notes and start pasting. Was chapter 2 amazing but then the plot falls apart in chapter 8? What would you do differently? Yep, write it all down. Think about the sentence structure on books you loved. Are the words dark and moody or fast and terrifying (or even beautifully romantic or hilarious?) When did you discover the mystery and how did the author keep it a secret? Or was what was intended to be a mystery completely transparent and it annoyed you? Write it all down. Paste a hundred post-its in the three or four hundred pages.

Do that for a dozen books and you'll suddenly discover how to do it. You'll discover paced plotting and creating rich characters because you'll see it right in front of you. You don't have to know the names for the writing terminology. You'll learn that as you go, just like a lot of us did.

So tell me . . . have you ever read a book for more than just pleasure? If you like to write, have you used other fav authors for research? If you don't write, have you ever thought of a book as more than just a few hour's escape, considered the structure of it? I'm interested to know!



  1. I used to read romance novels in my sleep. I know the elements that make a really great romantic story, but I don't want to write romance. I want to write a suspense thriller, but have some underlying romantic elements that don't quite blossom like a full romance novel.

    Would it still be considered a suspense thriller? I read somewhere that if you mix genres, then you stand a chance of putting yourself out of the commercial market.

  2. interesting blog. It would be great if you can provide more details about it. Thanks you

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