Read to Assemble a Writer’s Toolbox

Wednesday, January 15, 2020
This is one of my favorite writing quotes, and Stephen King has the weight to carry it off. After all, he’s been selling his work since 1967 and has published something like 83 novels. Go ahead. Try to argue.

But when I saw this quote today, I realized something new. You also need to read widely. After all, a good toolbox contains a wide variety of tools.

Read poetry. Interested in winning the WOW Flash Fiction Contest?  Then read poetry to learn how to make every word count. Reading poetry will also enable you to study how to create powerful imagery and writing that resonates emotionally with the reader.

Read picture books. As in the 32 page books written for young children. Written for pre-readers, they are meant to be read aloud. Picture books will teach you how to make your words sing and how to engage in word-play. Want to do all of this and also learn to tell a story in 500 words or less? Picture books are the tool for you. Picture books contain a full plot, beginning, middle and end, as well as multiple attempts to solve the problem all in a limited word count.

Read horror. Horror will teach you to create suspense. You will also learn to select setting details that allow you to manipulate your reader’s emotions. Depending on what you describe and how you describe it, a sunny day can be uplifting or ominous, cheery or harsh.

Read speculative fiction such as fantasy or science fiction. In fantasy and science fiction, authors must build bridges that bring the reader into an unfamiliar landscape. Authors also use emotion and other familiar elements to help readers identify with character who are truly alien.

Read epic novels. Whether you choose fantasy, horror, or historic fiction, read sagas with huge casts of characters. You will learn how to introduce large numbers of characters to your readers and how to bring these characters forward when necessary and when to let them retreat into the background.

Read graphic novels. Sometimes I look at a page I’ve just written and realize my characters are talking an awful lot and saying very little. Characters in graphic novels have to get to the point in short order. Learn to make every word of dialogue count by studying this format.

Read mysteries. Even if you aren’t writing a who-done-it, mysteries will teach you how to dole out information a bit at a time. You will learn how to foreshadow coming events and revelations and how to create false leads.

If you want to stock your tool box, read. Read often and read widely unless you think you can fix every writing problem with a hammer.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins  March 2nd, 2020. 


Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--I certainly don't read as widely as you advise, but I hadn't thought of it. I hadn't considered how each genre can teach us things/make us absorb things... especially mysteries. So thanks for the advice.

I'm glad you didn't mention romances. That is one type of book I don't think I could ever read.

Do you have a particular mystery you would recommend? (I haven't read mysteries since I inhaled every Nancy Drew book I could find.) Of course, when YOUR mystery is published, you can recommend it. ;)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I read fiction with a romantic subplot but romances? That's my one "no thank you" as well.

Some of the mystery series that I've been reading are:
Kate Carlisle's Bibliophile mysteries
Molly MacRae's Haunted Yarn Shop mysteries
Blaize and John Clement's Dixie Hemingway Mysteries
Cat in the Stacks mysteries by Miranda James

I'm sure I'll think of more later.

Cathy C. Hall said...

You would think that writers would automatically be great readers but I'm stunned at how often I meet writers who don't read much. I mean...well, for all the reasons you and Stephen King said, it's crucial.

And really, if you don't love words enough to always be reading, then how can you expect to write 'em?

(I'm reading The House at Pooh Corner and The Happy Medium and just finished Make Your Bed and Georgia Stories on My Mind. Quite an interesting mix!)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Oh, you read like I read. I just finished If Books Could Kill by Kate Carlisle (mystery), Educated by Tara Westover (memoir) and this morning listened to an expert of Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms (nonfiction).

Like you, I'm always shocked when a writer tells me they don't read. "I just don't like anything pubilshed today."

Climbing down off my soap box to go pick out my next read. Will definitely be looking at the titles on your list!

Renee Roberson said...

Thanks for this reminder. I need to vary my reading choices as well. Right now I'm reading the YA sequel to "One of Us is Lying," called "One of Us is Next," and I had completed "Educated" before that. I need to get back into reading more mysteries and horror and even some poetry! I think those all would help with some of my current projects. I'll start compiling a TBR for spring break and summer travel.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I just picked up One of Us Is Next from the library!

Angela Mackintosh said...

Sue, I love that SK quote as well! I strongly believe that you have to read a lot to be a good writer--there are no shortcuts. Reading poetry is a smart idea for any writer. I admit, I don't read children's books. I do read in every other genre, even romance, but literary romance. I wonder if I'm missing something by not reading kids' books? I don't even watch kids' movies, except for the occasional YA series on Netflix. I also think we should read older work, not just contemporary.

I just finished Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur (memoir, 2019), and I'm currently reading Burn It Down: Women Writing About Anger - an antho edited by Lilly Dancyger (nonfiction, 2019), Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood (fiction, 1989), and Lust for Life by Irving Stone (biographical novel, 1934).

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I do think we should all read writing for children and teens. For one thing, teen nonfiction is tight. So often when I read adult nonfiction I think "You already said that - where was the editor?"

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