Fiction and Writing

Learning From Reading

I’ve done a lot of reading this year. I’ve read some five books this week alone. Why? A) I needed to escape from my own head and darkness. B) I’m an avid reader, and have always been a bookworm. C) As a writer, I can learn so much from other books.

My editor praised the last book I handed him as being by far the best book I’ve written so far, and I put a lot of that down to the reading I did between writing the book before it and that one. I then proceeded to read some eighty or more books before writing Infernal Ties. I feel as though the difference between previous book (under a pseudonym) and Infernal Ties is night and day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of previous book, but, I’ve also learnt so, so, much this year. Thanks to all the reading I’ve done.

I thought I’d share some of the books I’ve read and some idea of what I learnt from them. First of all, I’m a character-driven writer. I’m all about the characters, their development, the psychology, their journey. Character-driven books don’t tend to sell that well, and I really want to make a career from my books. So Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle showed me that I can have both. I adore TRC, it immediately jumped to the top of my favourite series list. I’m not here to gush though.

That series gave me a much better idea of how to balance the characters and the plot. It showed me that I can have gorgeously developed characters, without losing the plot and the required impetus that keeps readers hooked. I can do it.

This is where I admit that I only read books that are selling very well. If they weren’t in the top 5,000 on Amazon at the time I picked them up, I wasn’t interested. I really wanted to learn what sells. I wanted to see what grabs readers and has them eagerly telling their friends and coming back for more. I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a commercial writer and I want to make money at this. Writing is my art, I take it very seriously, but that doesn’t mean I can’t keep the commercial aspects in the back of my mind.

The Hellequin Chronicles taught me about action and keeping things tight. It actually had a lot more pauses and down time than some of the other urban fantasy/paranormal thrillers I’ll list below, but it balanced them wonderfully. It helped me really tighten up those down moments where you’re world-building, or reflecting, or having a character moment. It helped me see how to keep the tension there and really make them work for their space on the page.

The Dragon Born books by Ella Summers really helped me get the pacing right for the audience I’m aiming for. It solidified the rolling motion and the increase in stakes that I need. It also really drove home what’s required from my romantic subplots. Those books are quick, fun reads. They’re easy to devour and somehow addictive, much like blockbusters. They don’t make you think too much, but they’re too much fun to care.

Annie Bellet’s 20-sided Sorceress, along with Wayward Pines, Boundary Crossed, The Paper Magician, Dragon Blood, and S.M. Reine’s books got the structure and pacing straight in my head. They’re all pretty different books, but the pacing was wonderfully executed in every case. The plot unfurled just as it needed to, at no point did they drag, or rush. They helped me form the image of my framework in my mind.

I didn’t enjoy all of the books I read, but I still learnt from them. I found Follow The Crow to be far too slow. That gave me a much better idea of where and how to focus. It still somehow pulled me along and did prove enjoyable in its own funny little way, that in itself is a skill. Another similar one was Witches Of Darkroot. That went nowhere, but it was oddly enjoyable despite all of its squandered opportunities. It pulled me along and the character interactions were pleasant and fun, despite the plot falling flat.

Back on a positive note, I’d rather not dwell on the negative, The Final Formula series is what I’m currently reading and I’m addicted. Andre’s world-building is glorious. Everything unfurls beautifully. The plot and characters slot together and purr like a finely tuned v8, it’s such a joy to read. I’ve learnt so much about how to share and show the world from this series, and also how to write a flawed narrator that’s still very likable and human.

I’m an editor, I pull apart books as I read them without even meaning to, and I feel that’s a good skill to have as a writer. We can learn from everything we experience if we open ourselves to it. Most writers are also avid readers, and we can learn from the books we immerse ourselves in. It’s worth reading both the good and the bad, I very rarely stick with a book I don’t like because my time is valuable and I want to enjoy life. Sometimes, I will do it because I can learn why it doesn’t work. Why it’s so painful to read.

I’m growing as a writer and it feels fantastic. I’m putting together better books, I hope that means I’ll make more readers happy. I want to entertain people. I want to give people amazing experiences. I’m a storyteller, I thrive on people’s joy and excitement at my stories.

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