Imagine if you had a dream of taking part in Dancing with the Stars, if you loved dancing so much that you longed to be involved in this glittering event. You’d no doubt practise your steps over and over, you might take lessons, look for constructive criticism, but you would certainly watch the programme again and again, seeing how the experts perform, admiring their fluidity and flawless movements, and examining their techniques.
The same goes for writing a novel. You’d practice as often as you could, perhaps go to workshops or creative writing classes, seek feedback and evaluation from a trusted source – these are the fundamentals, but the essential heart of writing a novel can only be gleaned by reading a lot.
Stephen King in his book On Writing, part memoir, part master class, and a valuable resource for every writer’s toolbox, sums it up quite succinctly – ‘Read a lot and write a lot’. And this advice applies whether you’re a novice or published author.
- Beyond creating characters, and constructing a pacy plot, and getting the words down, all of which are vital ingredients, writing a book involves using certain techniques to engage the reader and sustain them throughout the 300+ pages. Your narrative has to sing, it has to convey energy and movement, light and shade. Having a rhythm to the story is paramount. Reading helps you to absorb the essential rhythm of a story in a subliminal way – the flow and ebb of the plot, the highs and lows, the periods of intense drama counterbalanced by a much needed reflective space.
- Reading helps you to absorb how writers transition from one scene to the next, from one time frame to another, to ending a chapter on a cliff hanger and moving the story onwards so seamlessly you are caught up in the flow. Read enough books, and these techniques become engrained as part of your own writing skills.
- Reading widely helps to expand your vocabulary. It opens up your mind to new ways of phrasing, varied dialogue, and different styles of putting a story across.
- Read what is selling – bestselling authors are doing something right, something that engages readers and keeps them entertained.
- Read those new gems that come recommended – they will expand your vision of what is possible.
But I don’t have time to read, you might say. The process of putting down 100k words can be a long slog and between the demands of the day job and family, I can just about squeeze in writing time. However like the proverbial taking in advance time to sharpen the saw, you cannot afford to turn your back on one of the most pleasurable and effortless ways of improving your skills and your story telling.
Feeling passionate about your characters and your story is a vital way of keeping you sustained throughout that long slog, and ensuring your writing is fresh. You must care about your story, even more than your readers. So how best can you do this? By writing the book you most want to read.
As a reader with your writer’s hat on, you can identify the kind of books you’re going to abandon early on, and why, and those you cannot put down; you note the scenes that make your heart beat faster; what you love, or love to hate about a character; what keeps you up late at night or makes you miss your bus stop turning the pages feverishly; what it is about a certain story that urges you to tell your friends to buy the book because it’s a must-read; you identify what it is about a certain writer that makes you hungry for their next book and go searching their back list.
These are the kind of passions you need to connect with and harness to light up your own writing. And you will only discover them by reading.
(c) Zoë Miller
Author photograph (c) Kevin Morris photography
About The Visitor:
Izzie Mallon is looking forward to celebrating Christmas on a relaxing yoga retreat. At least, that is what she’s telling her mother and colleagues. In reality, she will be shutting herself away from the festive season, and the snowstorm that has brought the city to a standstill, in her apartment on Henrietta Square — the beautiful home she shared with her beloved husband Sam until his tragic death a few months ago — with only her grief for company.
Then, there’s a knock at the door — a stranger, stranded by the bad weather.
He tells Izzie that he’s Eli Sanders, her husband’s long-time friend. Izzie has never met him in person, but feels she owes it to Sam to welcome Eli into her home. Even though her instincts say that she should do otherwise…
As Izzie tries to reminisce with Eli about her husband, cracks in his story begin to show. But will she be able to see clearly through her grief before it’s too late?
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