Posts Tagged reading
In the almost twenty years since I started writing fiction, I’ve noticed a change in the way I read that same genre. I started my career as a scientist many, many years ago, and the only thing I wrote for a large part of my life were scientific papers. The only thing I read with any frequency was nonfiction, including other scientific papers and the occasional nonfiction book. (With the one important exception of Sherlock Holmes; for some reason which I can’t explain I latched onto Holmes a long time ago and read and reread it. Perhaps it has to do with Holmes’s insistence on using logic and reason—which is an important part of the scientific method—to identify the criminal in the case. The fact that Watson was a physician also didn’t hurt.) But in any event, my life was largely saturated with nonfiction, from biography to all sorts of general nonfiction to straight science and how-to books in microbiology and virology. Then I started a novel.
And as I started, I also began to read novels I hadn’t read before; I studied writing; I read writing magazines and books on writing; I went to writer’s conferences; I joined writing groups and listened to speakers talk about all phases of writing. I read novels and short stories and tried my hand at both. And I have so far gotten to the point that I feel I can write a reasonably good short story, one that stands a good chance of being published. (You can see two examples of my short fiction on this blog site; just go to the Short Stories tab.) Now all I have to do is convince a publisher to agree with me. But all that writing and learning about writing has had another effect.
Now when I read, I read more like a writer. I notice things I almost certainly would not have noticed had I not studied how to write. I’m much more conscious of what the writer of a book or short story is trying to do and say than I would have been otherwise. I look for plot holes; I look for foreshadowing: Ah-ha! He’s introduced an new character/concept. That could be important. I will follow this. To a lesser extent, I am more aware of things that are missing (why isn’t the main character doing this? Or this?). I look at grammar and sentence structure more carefully, I am aware of voice, point of view, and tense more stringently. I look at the author’s voice and style much more than I used to. Before, when I read nonfiction, I only wanted to get the information from the book/article/whatever. And in the case of the odd fiction piece, I read only for the entertainment. I didn’t have the knowledge to understand how it was put together. Now I am much more attentive to style and performance, even in nonfiction. Good or bad, that has been one of the side issues of learning how to write.
That extends to watching TV and movies. I’m now much more tuned in on how the show was put together. I’m conscious of plot holes and things that aren’t there. I look for oddities and peculiarities. I’ve come to realize that Captain Kirk on Star Trek, The Original Series was a lousier captain of a deep space vehicle than I thought he was at first. (Some of the things he did—wow.) But enough of that; who cares? Writing is fun and interesting, and looking at other writer’s works just makes me a better writer in the long run. A fundamental tenet of writing has always been that writers must be readers. This is one reason why.
I’m going up to Santa Fe tomorrow (August 1, 2016) to read from my first science-fiction novel at Collected Works bookstore. They have an open mike*, and anyone can read a five minute work. I picked out a very short section of the novel, a sort of tiny story within the larger story.
I’ve always liked to read from my works, whether only a part of a larger work, or a complete story in itself. There are two ways of reading out loud: to others, and alone. I read everything I write out loud after I’m done with the first revisions. I mostly do that alone, but I will read to others if the situation arises. Granted, it’s hard to find someone who will listen to me read an entire novel, but a short story can sometimes be read within a five minute period at an open mike event.
Reading out loud helps find the areas that are clunky and out of sync with the rest of the story. I want everything to read smoothly, and I can’t always find that in silent reading. Silence is good for the preliminary stuff such as the initial draft and those dreaded first revisions, but eventually I have to begin reading out loud to find the hidden unwieldy and clumsy areas. They’re in there; it just takes some doing to bring them out. I’ve even heard from one person who has his/her iPad read it out loud. That helps, too. It’s like getting someone else to read your work to you. Reading out loud does take more time because talking is slower than silent reading, but it’s worth the time and effort.
Probably the most important reason reading out loud works is that it forces you to read every word. You can’t skip over a word or phrase as you can in silent reading. “Oh,” you tell yourself, “I’ve been over this part so many times, I’m just going to skip it.” Nope, that’s not allowed in out loud reading.
The second reason reading out loud works is that in its slowness the relationship between words and phrases and sentences is exaggerated, and their interaction is accentuated. You see connections that weren’t there before, and things you thought were connected may not be, or look different. I have made changes in sentence structure based on a verbal reading.
I strongly recommend every writer try it, if you aren’t already.
*I’d say “open mic,” but WordPress flags “mic.” Oddly enough, it also flags “WordPress.”