Monday, November 28, 2016

How Reading Affects My Writing

By: Summer Greenwood

When asked how reading has made me a better writer, my first thought made me pause. It hasn’t! The more I read, the less I write. Outside of sleep and work, no other activity vies so heavily with my writing time. However, when I really consider my writing process, reading adds value to every word and scene I construct.

To start, reading has taught me about emotion. Of course, I experienced emotion before I picked up my first book, but reading allows me to explore my emotional side. Which books bring me to tears or keep from sleeping at night? Which settings calm me or set me on edge?

The answers to these questions often find their way into the scenes I create. When one of my characters is uneasy or frightened, my imagination naturally defaults to storm clouds and solitude, while excitement and happiness bring warm colors and supporting characters into my writing. Reading has taught me to look for emotional cues in nature, in settings, and in communication.

Reading preferences can also influence writing. Beyond our choice of genres, there are several other decisions we make before starting a book and while we are reading. What format do we like? How do we choose a good book? At what point do we decide not to finish a book? For some readers, the only way to start a book is at the ending. They read the final chapter before starting the first.

As a reader, I am less engaged in the beginnings and endings of stories. I want to delve into the excitement right away and get to the heart of it. I don’t like to spend hours getting to know the characters, and I tend to give up before all the loose ends are tied up. Strange, I know.

This does affect my writing. I spend far more time working on my backstory and ending than other parts of the story. Despite how essential these sections are, my writer’s mind shies away as it does when I am reading them. I can easily see how a reader, who prefers to begin reading at the story’s end, might write the final scene before outlining the rest.
Reading has also defined my genre preferences. I love to read retold fairytales, dark or realistic fantasy, and the occasional mystery. If given a choice, I prefer to read historical novels rather than contemporary fiction. It is no surprise that the scenes I write reflect my reading interests.

Examining each of these reading preferences brings me closer to understanding my writing style. There is no question that I love reading fantasy. I eagerly consume anything with dragons and spells, new worlds to explore, and a villain or two. However, I find I am also a realist. Danger can’t be thwarted with a conveniently learned spell or I abandon the book on my table and glare at it for days. I struggle through books with near-perfect heroes and heroines who are set on a path of sure success. When I write and revise my fantasy scenes, realism tends to drive the arguments I have with my characters.

As you can see from the last example, I find an even stronger link between my reading dislikes and the struggles I have as a writer. While reading an epic, saga, or series, I tend to skim or stop if the character doesn’t remain true to him or herself. For this reason, the questions I ask myself most frequently as a writer involve character. Would she choose to say that? How does this action reflect his need to control the situation?

Beyond the impact reading has had on my writing, reading has taught me about history, culture, and the creative mind. I hope you will share how reading has influenced your writing. Do you read while you are in the process of writing a story or novel? Do you write in the same genres you read? What are your pet peeves as a reader, and do you feel yourself writing them out of your own work? 

About the Author: Summer Greenwood is a Library Specialist with the Arapahoe Library District, residing with her husband in the Denver Metro area. She loves writing fantasy fiction, participating in reading challenges, and spending time with her two dogs, Shadow and Savannah, and her Ragdoll cat, Pepper. 

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