It is no secret writers tend to be readers. It’s a sort of form follows function. Or a simple process of evolution. Call it what you wish, however after nearly five decades as a reader, and four as a writer, I have learned a valuable lesson. There are different ways to read and some of them can actually improve our writing.
For a few years now I have read books of friends and fellow writers and posted my thoughts as a review on my blog. It was done mostly as a means to help them promote their works and to add variety to my sometimes neglected blog. I did not notice the shift in my reading style then, from reading for a review compared to recreational reading a book just because it looked interesting.
Then last year I made the leap to professional book reviewer. I read and review for a few different industry review operations. Because I read slower when reading for a review purpose than I do for pleasure, I am training myself to look for stuff. Tiny stuff will now start to jump out at me as my brain follows a logical trail and the story unfolds. Names, details, and punctuation all seem more obvious. Unfortunately this can also happen when reading magazines ads, boxes of cereal, or mail inserts.
Now I am searching for, and making notes around, things like repeated words, cliches, historical accuracy, stereotypes, awkward sentences, redundancy, narrative flow, slow starts or flat middles or dead endings, plot lines that don’t wrap up, characters and motivation, POV, grammar, punctuation, and spelling and so much more. There are cases where character names change throughout the book, and where the ending just sort of reaches out to slap the reader in a rush of surprise. I read a book once where the name of the town changed back and forth between two similar names throughout the whole story.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons these things become more apparent to me is that it will significantly add or subtract from the book’s value in the review. It’s also because every time something pulls me away from the line I’m reading and makes me pause, I now have to stop reading and write it down. A story with many issues or errors can seriously add to my time spent reading it. When I get a book full of errors or issues, I’ll be honest: it’s a chore to finish it, even if it’s a good story, because it’s much like driving in stop and go traffic. You just don’t seem to get very far. Read a little bit, stop and make notes, read a little bit more, stop again…. Oh my word! Are we there yet! Just let this end!
Fortunately, those are the exceptions and not the rule. However, while training myself to look for troublesome spots while reading, I am also on the alert for those same things when I write and more importantly, when I revise and proofread my own stuff.
It’s amazing how I can catch my own stuff in the proofreading steps that I “busted” another author for in a review. But learning to watch for those things builds proofreading muscles and ultimately that will make almost anyone a better writer.
Ryan Jo Summers is the author of seven Soul Mate Publishing novels, including the recent Raven Award finalist “Sizzle in the Snow” Christmas anthology. More about her can be found at her Amazon page or website, http://www.ryanjosummers.com or her blog http:www.summersrye.wordpress.com.