Reasons to study other writers

I’m always looking for ways to improve my writing. I try to write every day, I keep a journal. Whenever I read a particularly good book, I write a review for myself. Sometimes I’m so impressed with the author’s writing style, the seamless way in which a story is told combining all the right elements, in the right proportion, I study the author’s technique; not for the purpose of imitating his/or her style, but to understand what makes one author’s writing stand out from another’s.

In most novels the following elements are present in one form or another – protagonist, antagonist, conflict(s), setting, dialogue, exposition, theme, minor characters, storyline, plotting. But it is the way those elements are put together that distinguishes good writing from bad. I recently read a novel that contained all the above elements; however, as I read I was aware of the author’s missteps and rather than losing myself in the world the author had created, I found myself noticing the problems with the novel. It’s like making a cake. One might put all the ingredients together, but if they are not in the right proportion, the cake will taste awful.

While one can learn to write a novel in a relatively short period of time, reading well-written novels can elevate the writer’s sense of aesthetes. In art schools, students are taught to study the masters. I’m not suggesting that beginning writers have to study Shakespeare, Milton, Twain, Dickens or other writers of a period long ago. It can help; however, there are excellent novelists writing today. What I am suggesting is that when you come across a novel that moves you – not just the storyline itself, but in the way the story unfolds, by how the various elements come together to create a whole – believable characters, authentic dialogue, vivid settings, complex plotting, and a theme that resonates long after you put the book down, reread it or examine passages as one would study a painting or a textbook. Note what the author did that captivated you. Ask yourself how the author made you give up your time, lose yourself to spend hours, days, even weeks to enter his/her world.

My reading lists spans continents. I read widely. I read fiction as well as non-fiction, and poetry as well as drama. If you were to ask well-known authors for their reading list you’ll find they read widely, too. In essence, reading good writing enhances your own.

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