One of the things I hated in university were the readings for my courses (go figure) because I found that the more I was forced to read (not that I read everything I was told to) the less energy I had to read for fun. University almost killed my love of reading, but once I graduated and didn’t have to read for work anymore, I was able to get it back. Because of that, though, I’ve struggled with the idea of reading for work as a writer – basically reading a novel or short story I’m not enjoying to analyze it for my own writing. Since there’s so much out there to read and the recommendations keep rolling in, I’m much more likely these days to put a book down if I’m not engaged by the fourth chapter or so, even if it’s a book other writers have said I should study for things like pacing, tone, etc.
However, the novel I started reading the other day (I won’t say which one in this case) is the first one where I’m finding myself reading with my writer brain on but still enjoying the story. In this case, the writer’s style of prose doesn’t really appeal to me – I find there’s more description than there needs to be, and the paragraphing loses some of the intensity in moments where I’d incorporate one-sentence paragraphs and less words – but I’m attached enough to the character and the mystery in the novel that I’ve stuck with it. So as I’m reading, I’m not sitting on the edge of my seat like with Jim Butcher or Tanya Huff, but instead I’m thinking to myself, That’s a good use of pacing or Okay, I like that sequence of dialogue, how would I do that? And then I’ll skim certain sections, but take note of why I’m not engaged with those parts.
This is a mindset I haven’t been able to achieve before, which maybe means I’m growing as a writer? We’ll see if I’m able to read another novel in the same way. Apparently character is key for me; I put down A Crown for Cold Silver a couple weeks ago because I didn’t like any of the characters, even though the writing itself was pretty strong. As long as I can still pick up an author I love and not slip into my writer brain, I’ll consider this entire process a win. It’s bad enough that I can’t enjoy most movies anymore – if the same thing happens to novels, that’ll be time to put me in the ground.
Shameless plug time! I’ve mentioned here a few times that I blog for Black Gate, where I post bi-weekly reviews of SFF novels and short fiction and the occasional interview with a fellow author. My latest review of Joe Abercrombie’s The Heroes is up now, as well as my Top Ten Novels from what I read in 2016. If you enjoy this blog and think our reading interests might be in common, check out my reviews and feel free to comment.