Shelley Widhalm

Reading to Write Better

In 52 Writing Topics, Reading, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on March 11, 2012 at 10:00 am

In my chase of 52 writing topics in 52 weeks, I am pausing on reading as a type of prewriting.

At least this is what I tell myself. I am a bibliophile addicted to reading and have to read at least every other day. I can go without reading for one day, but not two in a row.

I can give up caffeine easier than books, and when I do – usually when I’m sick in bed or trying to be healthier – I get the withdrawal headaches. I don’t get headaches when I don’t read, but I’ll start plotting how I can get my next reading fix.

Like caffeine giving energy, reading is essential to becoming a better writer. It is a way to experience different styles, or ways of using language through word choice, sentence structure and description.

The words are absorbed like anything wet into something dry, expanding the dry object so that it has more heft. So will your vocabulary, giving you more options in how you describe the people, places and things of your fictional, or nonfictional, world.

Another aspect of reading toward writing is thinking about what you read. This can be done by analyzing the different elements of how the story is put together, looking at the plot, characters, setting and dialogue and the author’s voice.

Here are some possible questions to ask while reading:

* Does the plot maintain your interest? Are there transitions or does the storyline feel choppy and lack transitions?

* Are the major characters realistic? Do the minor characters serve a role in the story without drawing too much attention to their identities?

* Does the description of the setting make you feel like you’re there or do you trip over the words, because it’s too flowery and long?

* Is the dialogue how people talk without everything spelled out but with underlying meaning and an unspoken understanding between the characters?

At first, I used to read just for pleasure, but now I engage in reading analytically, asking what I like about the story elements. If I don’t like a book, I don’t just put it down. I ask why and try to identify if it is the style I dislike, or if it something about the storyline or the character development.

As a final note, I think to become a better writer, read on a regular basis. Take your book with you wherever you go.

* See Zoey my dog’s blog on reading at Zoey’s Paw. http://zoeyspaw.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=493&action=edit

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  1. a nice reminder of why we write to begin with. to be read!

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