Reading Teaches Me Writing!

March 4, 2013
By Bliss

So I’ve been reading some very disparate books lately and as a result I have noticed some very interesting writing stuff.

(Photo by Alberto G. (c) 2006)

(Photo by Alberto G. (c) 2006)

So book the first is an Elmore Leonard book, “Out of Sight”.  I am a huge fan of the show “Justified” which is based on an Elmore Leonard short story and he is listed as the Executive Producer I think.  I love the show for its dialogue.  I love it for its keen capture of rural southern America.  I love it for the complex grey area that all the characters live in.  But the truth is I have read very little Leonard.  So “Out of Sight” was recommended to me by Bullish and I do not ignore her recommendations.  I really enjoyed it.  As I neared the end of the book I realized that it felt as though the entire book was nothing but dialogue.  That isn’t entirely true but the end result of reading the book is that I have the voices of the character firmly embedded in my head but almost no visual picture of them.  That doesn’t mean they weren’t described at some point but there wasn’t a lot of time spent on the visuals of the people or the locations…with maybe a couple of clear exceptions involving disguises.  It’s sort of an odd thing to read a book and to have a firm grasp on the two main characters and all the other characters as well for that matter and yet when I try to see them in my head I have almost nothing.  Doesn’t make me like the book any less it’s just an odd experience as a reader.

Book the second is a romance, “A Rogue By Any Other Name” by Sarah MacLean.  Full on historical with the unmarried girl of advancing years (yeah she’s 28…) and the childhood friend who screws up as a young man and shows back up as a rogue.  There’s more to the plot but it’s all pretty typical to the genre.  I don’t normally read romance novels because I find that I get really tired of no one DOING anything.  I mean I like a good relationship drama with some good smexy here and there but eventually I want something to happen and for the character to, you know, do something.  Mostly they don’t in romance novels, they just have relationship drama over and over.  I have to confess there isn’t a whole lot going on in this one other than relationship drama BUT the writing was really lovely.  I find that is also often lacking in romance novels.  YES I AM MAKING GROSS GENERALIZATIONS…I’m sorry for that, but I can only talk from my own reading experience.  But my hat is really off to Ms MacLean for this one and I might read another by her simply because the writing was so smooth and downright elegant in places.  Her characters were solidly themselves and often delightfully surprising in certain situations, but never out of character or out of their time period.  I felt like it was a really nice study in how small choices for a character, her reactions or responses to a situation, can increase the tension or even just my interest in the character.  It seems obvious but if it were it would happen more often.

Book the third I’ll not name as I’m a bit less enamored with it and I’m not interested in slamming anyone.  I’m also not done reading it so I’ll reserve my full judgment until I finish it but right out of the gate I am having a problem with some language choices that just don’t groove with the presentation of the characters.  I’m no delicate flower when it comes to language.  I tend to swear more than is really socially acceptable and I’m fond of strong language to convey strong feelings.  But language is part of how we identify characters.  If the language you choose for your characters feels thoughtlessly crass you have to deal with the fact that this tells me something about your characters…it would be unfortunate if it told me something inaccurate.  In this case it is absolutely dissonant with what I’m being told about the characters.  Again this is turning into an interesting study for me in how careful we have to be as writers in our choices.  We deal in language and our choices have to be deliberate or our story will pay the price.  I may come back to this once I finish the book because there are elements to the story that I am intrigued by and that is why I’ll try to push on with it even though I’m also having some issues with the writing.

Anyone else out there had any interesting writing discoveries as they are reading?

    One Response to Reading Teaches Me Writing!

    1. Jules
      March 4, 2013 at 11:51 am

      I’ve always loved Elmore Leonard’s style but hated writing dialogue myself until this last year. I’ve been reading a lot of dialogue-heavy stuff recently and it has certainly helped finding the voices of my characters and moving story through their words. Great post!!
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