Writing Rule #3

Read. That’s right. You want to write well and sell books? Read.

Read in your genre to know what’s being done, what’s been done, and what hasn’t been done in a while. You avoid tropes and stereotypes this way. (While searching for agents to query, I found one agent’s profile that specifically said “no spunky redheaded protagonists.” I take that to mean a startling number of queries advertised one.) This way, you also know authors who write similar to you. When you write that query you can say, “Fans of this author or this book will enjoy mine.”

Don’t just read in your genre. Read all genres. Read nonfiction. Take a break and browse through a reference book. Read new books. Read classics. Read short stories and poetry. Read essays. Read not just to know trends and what’s getting published, but also to see how other writers structure sentences, handle grammar and punctuation, and add detail.Writing if 45% creativity and 55% knowing how English works.

How are you going to really know what’s going on inside a book unless you open a book? Sometimes, when beta reading, it’s like the author has never cracked open a book before. The dialog is wonky and not formatted correctly. The paragraphs are page-long. I mean, how else do you expect to learn how to write fiction other than read fiction?

Sure, you can read about writing from magazines and blogs, but there’s a difference between reading about how to structure plot and reading a fantastically structured plot. You can read about how to make a great character, or you can discover great characters.

Likewise, you can find books that you don’t like. What about that book did you not like? How, in your own writing, can you avoid doing what that author did? Or, if you find a book that you adore, what about it did you like? How can you mimic that without copying?

I know there’s advice out there that’s “don’t worry about what everyone else has done, do what you want.” Which is fine advice, but reading is still important in writing. It’s another gear in the clock tower analogy of writing great fiction. You are broadening your understanding and experience, and the broader you get, the more your fiction shows it.


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