Tuesday, April 07, 2015

You Are what you READ


You ARE what you READ.
 by Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy.

Years ago I was talking to a fellow novelist whom I’d just met and I asked him what his Top Five favorite novels were. This is a question I ask writers a lot. I’m always looking for great books, and one place to find them is on the Top Five list of another writer.


He said, “I don’t read fiction.”

This guy’s answer just about knocked me over. I couldn’t believe it. I asked him if he meant he didn’t read much fiction.

No, he didn’t read any. He was a nonfiction kind of a guy.

He wrote fiction, but he didn’t read it.

That was years ago, and I haven’t seen anything from him recently.

To put it bluntly, I don’t see that as a recipe for success. If you’re a novelist, you need to be reading fiction. There’s a saying that you are what you read,” and I think this is partially true.

If you read great fiction, you’ll absorb some of it, and you’ll become a better writer. You’ll learn what’s possible to do in writing, and it can’t help but expand you as a writer. But I think it goes beyond that.

I recommend reading widely, even if it isn’t great fiction. Because the fact is that--

--you are MORE than what you read

What you read is fuel for your mind—it’s necessary, but it’s not sufficient.


Novelists need to read Fiction.

A lot of fiction. Not just the bestsellers. Obscure stuff. Good fiction. Great fiction. Horrible fiction (not too much of this—if you do manuscript reviews at a writing conference, you’ll see more than you need).

When you read other people’s fiction, you learn things that you couldn’t learn any other way. Because when it comes to the craft of writing--

--you don’t know what you Don’t Know. 

The only way to Learn
 what you don’t know is by 
Reading other people’s work.

For starters, you should read widely in your category. You need to know the rules of your genre—which ones are ironclad and which ones can be bent. But that’s not enough.

Read widely outside your Genre. 
Read outside your Demographic. 
Read outside your Worldview.

Read Romance fiction. 
Most novels have a romance thread in them, no matter what their category. If you can improve that thread, your story will improve.

Read Suspense fiction. 
Most novels have some element of fear in them. Learn how to do that better and your novel will be better.

Read Fantasy. 
Even if you, personally, would never want to read a vampire or werewolf story, it’s quite possible that one of your characters would. If you understand that character better, then you’ll do a better job writing that character.

Read Mysteries. 
Even if you hate mysteries. Most novels have an element of mystery to them—some secret that needs to be uncovered. If you know how to unwrap that secret, one layer at a time, then your story can only get better.

Read a Spy novel. 
One of your characters is reading a spy novel right now. Do you know what he likes about it?

Read a Historical novel. 
The better you understand history, the better you understand the present.

Read Science Fiction. 
You might learn a bit of science, if it’s a hard science fiction novel. But for sure, you’ll expand your universe a bit. Never hurts.

Read YA fiction. 
It’ll give you insights into your younger characters. It might give you some insights into a few young adults in your life.

Read Women’s fiction. 
If you’re a guy, you’ll understand women better, which is good all by itself. If you’re a guy writing fiction, you’ll understand your readers better, because the odds are that the majority of your readers are women.

Read fiction that features characters with wildly different Beliefs from yours. 
I understand hyper-capitalists better after reading Ayn Rand. I understand Jews better after reading Chaim Potok. I understand Wiccans better after reading S.M. Stirling’s apocalyptic series that begins with Dies the Fire. I understand Muslims better after reading Khaled Hosseini’s book The Kite Runner. I understand fundamentalists better after reading the first book in the Left Behind series.

The better you understand your characters, the better your novel will be.

Read Bad fiction. 
Yes, really. If you find a particularly bad piece of writing, read it all the way to the end. Figure out why it’s so awful. Resolve never to do the things that the author is doing. 


I confess that I have a favorite bad novel, written by a high-school kid who graduated a couple of years behind me. This thing is fearsomely, wonderfully, amazingly awful. It’s bad on every possible level. No, I won’t tell you the title. Find your own dreck. I’m keeping mine a secret. My family knows which book I’m talking about, and they’ve all read it. We sometimes quote particularly horrible lines at the dinner table.

There are a billion ways to write great fiction, but only about a dozen ways to write truly horrible fiction. 

Good writing starts by learning to avoid that dirty dozen of Desperately Horrible Writing Follies.

If you’ve read some really awful fiction, I guarantee it’ll improve your writing. But there’s such a thing as too much of a bad thing, so stop when you’re had enough. A little goes a long way.

Read a little bad fiction and a ton of good fiction.

Reading Fiction
is the foundation of Writing fiction. 
Make your foundation
broad and strong.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Reprinted with permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 9,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.