Friday, 19 February 2010

How do you read - as a reader or a writer? - Linda Strachan

When we discuss books how different is our point of view if we are one of those who loves reading but has no aspirations to write?


Like most writers I read all the time and like most readers I enjoy different kinds of books at different times. I may be looking for something that either entertains or challenges me or at times both.

When on the beach, travelling or if I don’t have a lot of energy I will look for escapism and entertainment. At other times I want stronger meat, something to make me think,  a book that is more complex in ideas or depth.

If you are a reader (and a non-writer) you may be less concerned whether the writing is particularly good (technically) as long as the story grips you and carries you along. You may be the kind of reader who is not satisfied unless you are reading more elegant prose.

You may read a book to its end, just because you have started it, whether or not you are really enjoying it.   I know people who have said that this is what they do but personally I can never understand that attitude, there are too many wonderful books to read and I feel life is too short to waste time reading things I don't enjoy!


But as a writer I have found that the actual activity of reading has changed.

I am often irritated if I pick up a book that is that is badly written, where the research is thrown at you, undisguised and in indigestible chunks, or where plot tricks are so clumsily and noticeably used. Even if the storyline and some of the storytelling romps along I find myself being thrown out of the story because it is so badly written.

In one case when I was reading a book on a train I was so irritated by the terrible writing, more so as because I had nothing else with me to read and had picked the book up in a hurry, making the choice because of the cover, blurb and recommendations. I found myself reaching for an editing pencil which in the end was more entertaining than reading the book.

On the other hand I love discovering the occasional phrase or use of a particularly imaginative metaphor that stays in my head long after reading, as long as it is beautifully woven into the story and works for its living.

I find I no longer just read a book because I am always subconsciously looking at the construction - how the characters are developing,at times admiring the author's skill. The problem is when this interferes with the flow of the narrative and I find myself more interested in structure or technique.
That is when I realise that the plot or characters are obviously not quite gripping or fascinating enough to hold my interest.

The books I enjoy most are those where I have been so carried away with reading that none of these considerations occur to me until I have finished reading it or had put it down for a while.

Do you read as a reader or a writer? If you are a writer, has how you read changed?





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my new book Dead Boy Talking - published June 2010- Strident Publishing

15 comments:

Yunaleska said...

I'd say the way I read has definitely changed since becoming a writer. I like to get caught up in the story, but if bits stand out I make myself think 'Why?' so that hopefully I can avoid this in my own work. Equally if there are elements which are brilliant, I think about why I enjoyed them so much.

Somehow, despite doing this, I love reading more than ever. Reading as a writer has enhanced the reading experience for me.

Rosalind Adam said...

When I first enrolled in creative writing classes the tutor issued a warning. 'You will never be able to enjoy reading a book in the same way again.' I thought she was kidding but I now know what she meant and agree entirely with your blog, Linda. And I also agree that it is brilliant when I get drawn into an exciting plot and forget to notice how the author got me there.

MagicMadzik said...

I am not a published writer, and probably never will be, but I do write, almost every day, for my own pleasure and that of my best friend who is my only reader. ;) I don't know whether that places me as a writer but I do know it has changed the way I read books exactly as you described.

I could say that I love being carried away by a story, and will often forgive the writer many flaws if I fall in love with their plot and characters. That statement itself reveals how I read books: I notice the flaws. I growl at bad grammar, especially if it slips into an otherwise well-written book. I frown at confusing sentences. I get annoyed when repetitions and apparent gaps in the text make it obvious that the editing was rushed.

Where I am fascinated by character development is in how the author manages to step away from the classic and cliched solutions. The problem I always encounter when writing is that any rational and logical evolution in the story may appear ridiculous and contrived if it is too far removed from the accepted cliche. People have a tendency to say: 'This is silly, no way the main character would do that' because they have never seen it done before in that context. They forget that a human being is incredibly unpredictable, and that a deviation from the norm does not always need a clear explanation. Unlike in crime shows on TV, there isn't always a clear answer to the question: 'Why?'.

Of course, the trick is to make your readers grow to understand your character well enough that they do not even think of asking this question. I like to try and figure out how other writers manage it.

Book Maven said...

I used to be a good passenger until I became a driver! It's the same isn't it? Once you can do this thing yourself, you notice what the person who is supposed to be in charge is getting wrong (=doing differently!)

That's why I love feeling I'm in the hands of a real pro so that I can sit back and just read without mentally editing. But it's rare.

Bill Kirton said...

I have the same reaction as a reader/writer, Linda, and it seems to be getting more acute. In a world where so many good writers aren't getting published, it's hard to suppress annoyance when those who are write sloppily. I know it's not the same as if a surgeon used a breadknife instead of a scalpel but when reputable people (see? I'm not talking about Katie Price et al) write the plural of script as script's (which I came across today), it's inexcusable. Literacy levels are already too; professionals should have more respect for the tools they use. (Oh, I must have a lie-down now.)

Bill Kirton said...

Talk about hoist with my own petard - it should have read 'literacy levels are already too low' Mea culpa.

Katherine Langrish said...

I'm going to buck the trend here. I don't think I read any differently from the way I used to (although I've nearly always written, so I wonder if 'used to' is the right phrase?) Willing suspension of disbelief - but of course, if it's badly written or boring, the disbelief comes down with a bang. That's always been the case, though! If I emply a writer's or a critic's eye, it's always after the fact, not during the process.

Katherine Langrish said...

'Employ', not 'emply'. Sorry!

Linda Strachan said...

Yunaleska, I agree, I too love reading more than ever. MagicMadzik, If you write, even if you never want or intend to get published I would consider you a writer. Hi Mary, Yes I think it is the same thing. Kath, Perhaps it is because you have always written, I came to it rather late. Fascinating how different people are.

Sue Barrow said...

Since I've been writing I find it almost impossible to read a book without analysing the structure, criticising the plot weaknesses etc. And yes I do sometimes end by thinking 'Well, if they can get published . . !'But reading books which are well-crafted is not only a treat, but also provides me with inspiration for my own writing. Which is why, I imagine, the advice for writers is always to read as well as write.

Jan Markley said...

I read as a writer unless I get totally swept away by the story, then I'm a reader who's taking mental notes for the writer in me!

Brian Keaney said...

I read exactly like you read, Linda and I wish I could stop.

steeleweed said...

I've been reading since I was 4, writing since 6 and nothing much has changed since then. I'm kind of schizo when reading - one part of me follows the story, the other part studies/admires how it is presented.

I read most of my books several times and while the story is only new once, I learn more about writing with each reading.

Miriam Halahmy said...

Whether or not I get into a book can sometimes depend on where I am at the time. I have to accept that I'm just not ready for some reason to read that book, however highly recommended it is. Sometimes I return to it even years later and find I can't put it down. Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler was one of those books and I absolutely loved it the second time round.

Lucy Coats said...

I read, and have always read, in great gulps, very fast. I believe it is called 'block reading' and I seem to have taught myself. Your post made me stop and think. Do I read differently now? Certainly, to when I was a child (though like Kath L I have always written). I think a sea-change happened when I became a publisher's editor. After that, I read as an editor does--with grammatical and plot sloppiness, bad punctuation and typos an ever-present annoyance. Since I became a published writer (18 years ago now), I still edit mentally while reading, but it has become a background activity, rather than a front-of-brain one. I am currently finding great reading enjoyment in learning about new and unfamiliar genres (gritty reality teen fiction is a relatively recent thing to me). I suspect that, for me, discovery of new things will always be my greatest reading pleasure.