Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Don't Just Read The Great Books, Read the Garbage Too!

When we first start writing, we are often drawn to some of the great authors in our genre. We want to "be just like them." In fact, this happens with a lot of different disciplines (teaching, art, sports and so forth). We want to learn from the best. In fact, I have spoke about this same concept several times here on the blog when we talked about critique partners or deciding on workshops and classes you want to attend. However, when it comes to learning from other author's writing, or say my son wanting to watch Michael Phelps and learn from observation, that approach might not be the best.

The problem is that with many of these people who are really good at what they do, their talent is really coming naturally. They have likely moved past that clinical approach beginners take when it comes to their craft and we just aren't going to be able to see those small little nuances that make that huge difference in the final product.

There is also another problem we face by trying to learn from these people. As beginning writers, we are often in awe of this person and their craft. As we read their novels, we are "swept away with the story," or "we fall in love with their heroes." You know what I mean ladies. When you first read Diana Gabaldon's OUTLANDER you ran around dreaming of Jamie and wondering why your husband couldn't be more like him.

But how can we learn if we don't look at the best?

When I teach writing classes at the college, I often get students who ask me to provide examples of what I mean when I talk about something like "writing that is rambling" or "transitions that lack fluency." I have to say, coming up with an answer to this is harder than you think and the reason is simple. I don't look to provide examples of the bad writing, I try to provide the good examples, much like writers do when they go to the amazing writers for guidance. But, I have found the solution. I use their writing.

When we see something that isn't working, it forces us to really study that writing and determine what is going on. Learn from it! What  is it that the authors are doing that are not working for you? What techniques are they using that are working against the story or making the connection between the author and the reader not quite right? But more importantly, what would you do to fix the problem.

The idea is simple. If there are things that are bad in their writing, you need to find a way to NOT do what they are doing in their story.

I was speaking to one of my authors recently and she was venting over this book she just picked up. She couldn't understand why the editor would have ever wanted to print this particular book. She also couldn't figure out why reviewers were apparently saying this book was great. So I took a look at the story. I had to agree with my author. This story really wasn't that good. But what we did do was spend the time dissecting what the author might have been thinking when she wrote that novel. We tried to determine what the editors and reviewers were thinking. It was this dissection that gave us a better understanding of the editor, the publisher and even what seemed to be working. We also had a chance to reflect over my author's writing and identify things she was doing that worked.

Reading the bad stuff also gives us a chance to reflect on things that don't work for us as readers. Seeing this in someone else's writing forces us to become hypersensitive to those strategies in our own writing. If we don't like it in other books, then let's not put it in our own stories.

So, if you want to really learn, start reading those bad stories. Read the stories that get 1 and 2 star reviews. Figure out what they are doing...

and then don't do it in your own writing.

1 comment:

  1. A new meaning to read and toss (paper books for trips, read and leave behind for someone else). Read, learn and pass on to another writer.