Can Writers Still Be Readers?

From Writer Unboxed:

All writers begin as readers, right? We fell in love with other people’s stories—where they could take us, what they could do—and then, one day, decided to make a story ourselves. The love of words begins young in some of us, takes longer for others, but has stayed lifelong for nearly every writer I know.

Yet becoming a writer changes our relationship with reading. In my case, since I’m a novelist, it has changed my relationship with novels. I read as much as I ever did, plus some more—reading upcoming novels for potential blurbs, reading other work in my genre, reading my friends’ books, reading for research, reading books to review, and of course, when there’s time, reading for pure pleasure.

But unfortunately, as its position at the end of that list shows, reading for pleasure sometimes has to wait until the other reading is done. The thing we do just for fun becomes something else entirely. That’s one reason I asked the question in the headline—can writers still be readers? Can we still fling ourselves into books, get swept away by them? Can we still disappear entirely into a story someone else has created?

In my case, I find it a challenge. Especially if a book is very successful, I keep slipping out of the story to analyze it from the outside. For example, I read Gone Girl about a year after it came out, and I couldn’t experience the characters as people at all. I wasn’t thinking about why Amy did or said something, but why Gillian Flynn chose to have Amy do or say that thing, which is a very different angle and therefore a very different reading experience. My writer brain was there the entire time, like a lens imposed between me and the writing that I couldn’t set aside.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

1 thought on “Can Writers Still Be Readers?”

  1. Having written 10 novels (such as they are) by now, all to a standard 4-act adventure framework, I find I’m not so much distracted by what other fiction writers do, but by movie & TV simplified versions of fiction, esp. since movie renditions of stories are now so rigid in their timing scaffolding and their “act” structures.

    You can’t help but become familiar with the tools that you learn to use, and writing adventure fiction (Fantasy) puts that 4-act tool in my wheelhouse as a lens for everywhere else. Can’t turn it off.

    To tell a complex story in a real-time medium (like film) almost always requires a great deal of simplification — eliminating characters, plotlines, complexities, inner dialogues. And commercial considerations (e.g., breaks for ads, overall length, tried-and-true plot & act structures, midpoint reversals) force a predictability in plotting and events that is appallingly obvious. I am now that obnoxious audience member who tells her partner everything that’s going to happen ahead of time, just around the corner of the current plot events. It saddens me that’s I’m right about 90% of the time. So much for innovation.

    When an unsatisfactory fictional show ends, I often involuntarily spend time figuring out how I would have made the presentation “better” (to my taste, anyway), how I would have tied up the loose ends, what I might have introduced into the plot or the characters to make it a more satisfying experience.

    I don’t usually do this with written fiction — that’s more of an all-or-nothing. Either it’s an unreadable mess that gets shit-canned early, or I get to the end and accept the author’s choices. It’s always easier to be critical of simplified versions of something, rather than the thing itself in its full complexity.

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