Read good books.

This advice is given a lot to writers and I want to clarify it.

And I want to emphasize good.

You will start to re-create what you see on the page and your writing will only be as healthy as what you are feeding it. Find books with good prose. With writing or dialogue you admire. With strong stories. Buy a copy and highlight it. And then read and read and read, and you’ll start to see your own writing improve. Read the books that are classics–they are classics for a reason–and read the books that are bestsellers and read the books that are award winners.

I have a set list that I would recommend any author read, and almost all of them have awards on the cover that also recommend them. Jellicoe Road and Saving Francesca, both by Melina Marchetta. Shutter by Courtney Alameda. Nation by Terry Pratchett, and then really any Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman book, if you want a good study in dialogue. The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian provides great voice.

Read writing craft books to really understand the tools of writing. Read non-fiction to learn new ideas, see how politics really work, or create a believable world. Suzanne Collins got the idea for Hunger Games from a documentary, and a lot of my clients who are great on the line-by-line stuff read almost strictly non-fiction to create believable stories. So read. You are absorbing ideas. You’re absorbing grammar. You’re absorbing sentence structure and rhythm and prose. Now to be a bit more specific, buy the 10 books you most admire. Read them once through for plot. Read them again with a pen or highlighter in hand and make notes of good dialogue, characters, or whatever. Read it a third time and actually outline the book by each scene so you can start to take it apart on a structural level. That will help you start to better analyze what you are reading.

So that’s what we mean when we say, “Read good books.”

Check out my post on How to Do a Text Analysis (coming soon!)


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