When I was a child, my mother says I was always on the move and didn’t really have the patience to sit and read a book. I would read, but as I moved into my teenage years, other things were occupying my time, and reading wasn’t one of those things.
Fast forward to high school and Ms. Susek and my creative writing class I took. It was the one class I could really sink my teeth into. I loved that class, and it fostered a love of creative writing that I still hold today. As you heard in last week’s podcast, I went back to school in my forties to earn an MFA in Creative Writing. From high school on, I wanted to be a published author, and we’ll get to that discussion sometime down the road.
But it was around the time of Ms. Susek’s class that I began to read, especially in the summer. I started picking up novels that may not have been considered literary works of art, but I was enjoying them. I remember reading The Valley of the Dolls, and I couldn’t put it down. I read some Jackie Collins novels for fun, and then I found Rosamunde Pilcher and The Shell Seekers, and my life began to change. Reading Rosamunde Pilcher’s books made me want to write even more, and I ended up taking an elective course in my first master’s degree in professional writing with the late, great Dr. George Friedman called Writing Short Fiction. Again, I fell in love with reading and writing all over again. It was then I knew I wanted to try my hand at writing a novel. Again, a conversation for later.
But what I learned from reading, besides the obvious, is to attend to the writer’s style and manner of storytelling. I think this is why we love to read a variety of writers; different writers have different styles, and those styles can help inform our own writing. This is not to say that we may want to try to imitate another writers’ writing style, but the ways in which they go about storytelling intrigues me.
Pilcher’s books are character driven, and I love that. I love getting to know characters so well that I don’t want to leave them—I want the books to continue. Figuring out how to make your characters that intriguing and interesting takes time, but by studying the great writers (and what I mean by the great writers is this – those writers who pull you, personally, into their stories), we can learn a lot about how to develop characters that we like to write. Another one of Pilcher’s books called Coming Home, is probably my favorite, and I loved reading her books because you are drawn in so effortlessly.
Reading is a way to escape, we all know this. It helps us feel less alone. But as someone who is trying to build up my own base of readers, understanding the nuances of storytelling is a must. Reading allows us to be both entertained by the writers we choose to read and be educated by them in the art of storytelling.
Of late, my favorite genre-specific writer I enjoy dissecting is Jojo Moyes. Her stories are very much like the ones I tell—character-driven, dialogue heavy, and (hopefully) entertaining. Enjoying contemporary storytellers invites us to pull up a chair and dissect the ways in which they work to deliver a narrative that is appealing enough to become a bestseller. It’s always interesting to see what sells.
Admittedly, I’m not a big fantasy reader. I like a little bit of it, but it’s not typically my genre. However, Erin Morgenstern’s book, The Night Circus, had a huge impact on my writing. Reading her book pushed me to be creative in ways I hadn’t before, and I tried a new way of storytelling after seeing how marvelously Morgenstern constructed her story. It’s magical and whimsical; it’s poetic and literally beautiful. Sometimes I think we should push ourselves to read something that’s not typically in our wheelhouse, just to get a glimpse into something different that could potentially be eye-opening.
I could talk about this subject for hours, but I promised these podcasts would be short. So, let’s end today by simply stating a true fact: Reading can take you places you’ve never been, offer insights on things you’ve not considered, and entertain you in ways that other mediums cannot, because you must rely on your own imagination to fill in the blanks.
I’d say that’s a pretty powerful thing.
Stay positive and bright,