The Relevance of Reading
One of the most important aspects of becoming a better writer is reading vast and wide. Reading informs of how the craft works. The fundamental goal of a writer is to tell stories — to intrigue the reader enough to follow the characters on their journeys of discovery. The basic tools of shaping the protagonist and antagonist through conflict come to play, as does the structure in acts. Each act can be dissected in chapters, which can be pared down into smaller sections — I usually do this in my handwritten notes. In fact, I have many notebooks fill with project outlines, structure, character backgrounds, and research. I sometimes write whole sections by hand and revise them as I type them into Scrivener. I find the written word to be more malleable with creative thought. Outlines can be rearranged, ideas jotted down, and for those moments where my characters can and will speak to me in the creative sense, the pen is easier. I have learned a lot about these things through reading other’s works.
Reading has shown me how writer’s think. The simplicity of prose that is directly stated helps the story flow. Opening in the middle of an action and letting the reader discover the characters through their thoughts and deeds sets the tone. World building and researching a background for a story to make sure the details have a ring of truth aid in the suspension of disbelief. The art of description allows a reader to see. All of these I have learned from reading across genres of fiction, horror, and fantasy. Some examples of the art include: the great opening line and down to earth characters of Stephen King, the direct dialogue of Elmore Leonard, the importance of history from Anne Rice, the tight structure and payoff of a short story by Shirley Jackson and Edgar Allen Poe, the cut-up method of William Burroughs, vocabulary building from Clive Barker, and the relatable easy emotions of S.E. Hinton.
Reading teaches me the rules of writing — what works on the page and what does not. I have discovered there is no right way. There are forms and grammar to follow, but the fun part is dissecting things to break the rules and be creative. Like any art, the work changes as the writer does. My first wave of books charts my primitive beginnings of turning screenplays into short stories and novels. Over the course of the writing, I have noticed my style emerging. It is in the theme of an outsider on a journey through darkness—sometimes they find the light and other times they get lost. Perhaps it is from growing up different — a secretly gay punk kid — that has informed my storytelling. I never would have noticed the pattern if I would not have kept writing. My second wave of books is a progression and expands on the theme in a more personal way. Dark Journey 1973 has a true crime and historical fiction background and the Rebel’s Edge series (I am currently writing) is based on true events of punk kids in the 1980’s with a YA angle. I hope to continue to grow and learn in the craft. That’s why I am always reading multiple books at once and even taking notes for the third wave to come.