Monday, October 21, 2013

Active Reading

The first time I heard that term I thought it was all some sort of writer secret society code. I've since uncovered the code and ding ding ding I can even advise people on it. You've heard the advice before: a writer should read. You've heard the term, active reading. And you've heard that writers should stay in the loop.

I'm going to break down the mystery of active reading in a series of blogs. However, I can't do that without explaining why active reading is so important.

Why should writers read? Because not reading is like working for an environmental awareness organization and not recycling
Reading connects you to people who are you. You’re a writer, be supportive of other writers by reading their books, published and unpublished. Writers are basically your co-workers. By appreciating and utilizing their work, you’re keeping your industry alive. What happens when we stop buying each other’s books? How can we not support the industry in which we hope to be in?
A writer who doesn’t have time to read is going to be as effective as a scientist who doesn’t like to research, a party planner who doesn’t like to plan, a chef who’d rather drink protein shakes than eat. Reading and writing just goes hand in hand. If you don’t read, a writer is in the dark.

Read to stay in the loop
Have you ever had a reader tell you: that’s a cliché phrase, your character is cliché, your plot was slightly predictable? Reading could alert you to phrases that have been used so many times that it’s eyerolling: stiff as a board, black as night, weight of the world on her shoulders.

Being an avid reader could tune you in to character traits that are being used often in published books. Readers might be tiring of cheerleaders who are misunderstood, girls who are really pretty but don't know it, the sensitive badboy...okay, maybe not the last one.

Reading could also alert you to scenes from published books that are too popular to be used in your own writing. And don't mistake watching the movie as covering your bases. How could you know that having the mayor's daughter give your character a pin with an animal on it before sending her off to fight for her life would automatically bring to mind the beginning of Hunger Games? You won't know that if you haven't read the book.

By reading published books you'll know about commonly (and currently) used plot points. I’m all for making the plot your own, and doing a better job at it than the previous author, or even sure it’s the same premise but my characters are aliens instead of werewolves. But the point is to at least be knowledgeable about what’s currently being written…and how it’s being written. You won’t know what you’re dealing with unless you’re reading.

So there’s the why. The next question is—how should we read? What should we look for? What does active reading mean? Tune in for the next post, and I'll try to answer those questions for you.

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