Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Read Bad Stuff

But wait Scott, this makes no sense? Shouldn't I read only the good stuff?

Actually, the answer is you need to read both, but if you read the bad stuff, and really stop and study it, you can find a lot of your own personal mistakes. Reading any piece of writing in the genre (and sub-genre) you read is critical for understanding your writing. You have all heard that the greatest writers out there read a lot. What you fail to get is that for them, reading was also research.

Now here is the thing. When you read a really good story, you fail to catch all of the unique things the author did to draw you into the story. It is this element you have to train your eye and mind to catch. You let half of your mind enjoy the story and the other half you give the freedom to fully dissect that book. You've heard me talk about that one before.

As far as reading the bad stuff, there is method in my madness (to misquote Shakespeare). By picking up the bad and even the mid-level writers every now and then, you can see what it is that might irritate you about the writing. No, you don't have to read the entire book, but you do need to give it a fair read to really see what is going on. Unfortunately, too many writers give up too quickly when they find a book they don't like. People who simply read have the luxury of doing that, but I am sorry writers, you have an obligation to keep reading.

But here is the catch. Once you see that pattern, go and look at your own writing. You have to do this with an open eye and not out to say, "I'm going to prove I don't do it." If you can't look at your work objectively, hand it to a critique partner and tell them what to look for. Be specific in terms of the what they are reading for and don't say, "Can you read this and make sure I'm not writing like this garbage writer?" Something along the lines of, "I need you to look at how I have the characters interact. Does it sound scripted?"

You might be shocked.


  1. Yes indeed, but some of the worst writing is so awful that it actually is funny, and in the end becomes positively endearing. I continue to read several authors, mercifully unnamed, because I don't doubt they are writing at the top of their game, as it were, solely because they are so wonderfully dreadful. It's like watching the old Rosamme show reruns-you can't take your eyes off her. Totally entertaining.
    Meanwhile, writing for Ebooks-is there any point in it? Harlequin Undone seems to be very open to new writers, and is looking for short works. I keep reading that agents do not want to hear about any Ebook sales=that it actually counts against you, if mentioned. Given the very low pay for writers, i am assuming that these would only sell for a few hundred dollars, if that, because they only cost the reader 89 cents.
    The advantage would be that they don't take much time to write, and it would be a chance to try out a minature of a book-length plot. If they liked it, they might look at a book ms more seriously. Any thoughts on writing for this line? Serious ? Light-hearted? The guidelines are very braod. I see that Bronwyn has had good results with this endeavor.
    Thank you.

  2. This is a good post, Scott. It's good to remember to look for value in all books and levels of writing. Sometimes the best thing about a read isn't the story, it's what you can take away in terms of what doesn't work - and that's good to know. Thanks for your faithful blogging. Your site is a daily stop for me, and one I enjoy.

  3. Anon,

    The thing about the e-books is the money issue. I have a lot of writers that use the e-books as a way to keep their name out there and that is about it. In the case of the Undone series, Harlequin is doing a great job of insuring the e-books have links to some of the existing books coming out. Again, it is an advertising thing.

    As far as the agents not looking for them, part of it is the lack of money. 15% of 33% is not that much. Along the same lines, many of the e-books that we see are just not up to stuff. This is not to say all are, but they just haven't been as strong as we hoped for.

    There is a place for them though.