This is part of a series on how to study fiction, mainly directed at writers who have read all the beginning writing books and are like, “What now?!?” The rest of the series is here.
Techniques to help handle reading issues:
First, what to read. You have a number of options.
- Read deeply, that is, inside the genre/subgenre you’re most likely to write in. This will give you the deepest views of the tropes involved in your genre, but will not help you write work that appeals to readers outside your genre or across genres (per se). You will be at far less risk of reinventing the wheel in your genre, but you will miss out on mining other genres for stories that your genre hasn’t used to death.
- Read broadly, that is, across genres. This will give you a better idea of the concept of “story” in general over time. It puts you at higher risk of reinventing the wheel in your genre, and at first will confuse a lot of issues when it comes time to write in your own genre, but will pay off more later, as you’re able to identify different reader types and what they want.
- Read for mastery, that is, studying the masters of fiction in order to steal their techniques. The general idea is to read books from a writer who is a current bestseller, publishing for at least 15 years a book a year, but only the books that have been published in the last ten years. You, too, would like a long-term, bestselling career with a book a year coming out. You, too, would like to use the latest techniques for getting this done–not techniques that went out of style in the 1950s.
- Read with focus, that is, with some other emphasis than merely genre concerns. This is something you can use to stay within a genre as a reader but not get stuck in a rut of reading what you always read. For example, you might read only books written by authors of color, or from the 1930s, or from Japan, or simply a “best of X genre” list. This often can uncover a prejudice or shortcoming in your own writing. However, this is also a great way to make yourself hate reading. People usually read for comfort, and this kind of project is almost deliberately uncomfortable.
- Read for research, that is, digging into books that will help provide background inspiration for what you’re writing. The benefits are obvious, but the drawbacks are many. Not only can reading too much research material hamper your efforts to make the material you’ve researched flow naturally into a book and prevent you from writing at all (the research rabbit hole!), but reading solely for research can prevent you from achieving any other goals. No depth of genre, no sense of story, and no questioning your assumptions. Be careful with this.
Personally, I tend to mix up all of these, because I read quickly and can afford to spread my reading time around. I also read for pure pleasure, but again, this is because I can afford to.
It may be highly beneficial to take some time and learn how to read faster. This can help you read more books, but can come at the expense of fully enjoying the books you do read. On the other hand, learning how to fly through books that you hate but need to understand can be a real benefit.
Personally, I do most of the techniques listed in this article, at Lifehacker. It isn’t just about reading faster, but about preventing reading fatigue. I often switch between a difficult and a pure-pleasure book to keep myself refreshed, or take a break on the really hard ones and cruise through a bunch of mindless websites.
And yes, I find that holding my thumb along the side of the paragraph I’m reading totally helps.
As a side note, in order to find the books you need for any of these projects (anything other than “pure pleasure”!), just google “Top 100 Books of X.” For example, you might google “Top 100 books of science fiction” or “Top 100 books of alien invasion science fiction” or “Top 100 books of all time” or “Top 100 books of authors of color,” or “Top 100 books of the French Revolution,” or whatever.
Google will give you a number of top-whatever lists, whatever the number happens to be.
Next time: You’ve read a book and you have all the feels. Now what?
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