Read Think Write

Employ your time in improving yourself by other men's writings so that you shall come easily by what others have labored hard for. (Socrates)

As all teachers know, the skills of reading and writing are interrelated. Reading informs writing. The better read a person is, the greater possibility that s/he will develop strong writing skills.

At my little Lutheran school we had a very poor library. I read nonfiction treasures about Davy Crockett and the Alamo to whet my appetite; meanwhile I wondered why we didn't have books that told similar stories to what I viewed on tv: Star Trek, Dr. Who, etc. Once I did discover that there were indeed books like this available . . . just not in our library or at the Christian book stores, I was resentful (so that chip you see on my shoulder? it's been there a long long time).

A whole world of sci-fi and fantasy opened up to me when I went to public school and checked out the library there. A ten-year-old discovered that the Christian subculture of the day was narrow in scope!

My mother and grandmother sent me off to the town recreation program for classes in crafts, acrylic painting, swimming, Little League . . . and writing. I was exposed to all these arts, but writing fiction met my artistic drive. And, I was good at it — well, in comparison to the results of my other classes: the Popsicle stick basket wasn't a huge success. While reading The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett), a book written nearly one hundred years previously, I thought wow, I'd like to do this — write a story that sweeps readers away into another place and time.

I was a voracious reader. I read for pleasure and I read for escape. I spent time in imaginary lands and fought off aliens all the while dreaming of one day writing my own story. As I grew older my reading selections took off in new directions and as I read I noticed the ways in which the novelist captured my attention. In high school I wrote short stories and employed some of these techniques. Some of my compositions may have resembled the Popsicle stick basket, but a couple were recognized by a teacher; both published in issues of a literary magazine for students and entered into a three-state competition. Oh, I was thrilled. Later when I was awarded first place at the U of Wisconsin Literary contest for one, my socks rolled up and down.

I've come a long way since that contest and have learned a lot about writing — not from classes or formal instruction — by reading (and critiquing*). Some studies in writing that I recommend are:

  • MaryLu Tyndall: action-pacing and conflict sweep the reader along; this woman's tales TWIST badder then Chubby Checker with an ice-cube in his shorts. The Restitution
  • Tricia Goyer: masterful at capturing human mannerisms with a pen. Arms of Deliverance
  • C.S. Lewis: the archetype for allegory. Chronicles of Narnia
  • MaryLu Tyndall: the strongest description comes with the use of verbs. Legacy of the King's Pirates
  • C.F. Freidman: effective hooks in opening and closing lines at every break. Black Sun Rising
  • George Orwell: subtle communication of theme that doesn't get in the way of the story. 1984
  • Alexandar Solzhenitsyn: description that makes the reader feel the sensory aspect of every scene. A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch
  • Harry Harrison: expertly portrayed his protagonist so that the reader knows Slippery Jim like a close family member. The Stainless Steel Rat
  • Thomas Harris: in his elegantly portrayed Hannibal Lecter, Harris has created one of fiction's most humanized diabolical antagonists.

The greatest part of a writer's time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book (Samuel Johnson)

*Just like reading, there is no replacement for critiquing. Writers think the most valuable aspect of critiquing is advice on their own work. My most powerful lessons in the craft have come from critiquing the work of others, then reading the best critiquers' criticisms.

Frank Creed is a freelance writer, novelist and founder of the Lost Genre Guild.
A Frank Review


Grace Bridges said...

It's all input and output. You have to get a whole lot of good writing in you if you want to spew some out. I can't understand people who say they're writers but have no time to read! Reading is foundational for everything a writer creates.

cathikin said...

Thanks for the study list. And a couple of your own examples of figurative language (your socks rolled up and down? LOL. I see too many cartoons in your past). I appreciate an essay with specifics in the details, something you supplied in abundance here. SO I guess I'm saying that I think this essay is in itself a good example of good writing.

Sue Dent said...

Sorry, I'm a writer but I have no time to read! :)

I did read a lot when I was growing up though and read occasionally now.

I write because I'm a writer. I read because every now and then, I like to read.

Anonymous said...

A ten-year-old discovered that the Christian subculture of the day was narrow in scope!

No. Shit. And it still is.

I came in just the opposite direction. My passion growing up was classic SF adventure -- Anderson, Piper, Norton, Simak, Dickson, Silverberg, all the names-to-conjure-with you could find in Sixties back issues of Analog.

Then I was introduced to Christian (TM) SF -- or at least attempts at it. (Note: This did not include the Tolkien and/or Lewis, this was the CBA-approved stuff.) The contrast was stunning; the utter failure of imagination and trite and prosy formula writing on the Christian side of the comparison. Coming from, say, Cordwainer Smith to the predecessors of Left Behind was quite a systemic shock; it's been over thirty years, and the utter failure of imagination in Christian (TM) SF still floors me.

Now, at 52, I'm actually achieving my dream of becoming a published SF writer. My standards are whether my stuff could have gone head-to-head against Poul Anderson and H Beam Piper in their prime, NOT LaHaye & Jenkins of today.

Anonymous said...

I did note the paucity of so-called CBA books on Mr. Creed's list of examples. Kudos to him for seeing beyond the CBA market. So many Christian authors and publishers cannot do the same; to them the CBA-affliated publications ARE the Christian market and anything other than that must surely be untouchable.

At the risk of having tomatoes thrown my way I submit that authors like Peretti and Dekker have done much for Christian fiction. The success of their "edgy" styles of writing has opened many doors for authors of adult sci-fi and fantasy (LeHay & Jenkins don't even register on the meter). However, Peretti and Dekker still have a long way to go before they can be considered along side their mainstream counterparts. I doubt that the constrictions of CBA conventions will ever allow Christian authors to go much further. Sad.

Sue Dent said...

Hey, annonymus, I get it! My first publisher was (barely)a traditional Christian publisher. I had never heard of CBA and didn't see how it would affect me or my book.

I suppose if they'd say who they represent and stick to that, they wouldn't affect me or my book. But they don't. They infer the represent the entire Christian Market and there happy to let everyone believe that.

Even today I posted on my Amazon blog how I wasn't affiliated with CBA/ECPA to maker others who weren't aware that there is a differenc. It was a very nice post, you can go read it yourself.

Not two hours after I posted I get an e-mail from a David Johnson who I've learned has a non-fiction book out through Bethany House to say that I must be mistaken. CBA doesn't have any rules for authors. He suggested each publisher had their own rules.

Cyn and I plan to clear all that up in our book about the publishing industry though so be sure and watch for that! :)

Sue Dent said...

Oops! I posted that last comment from Cyn's account. Thought I'd logged out. Sorry. :)

Deb said...

Oh, dear! CBA "doesn't have any rules" for their authors! I must've had my hearing aid turned up too far, the days I was told what the rules were.

In no uncertain terms.

Now, I write romance, so you'd think it wouldn't be so hard. You TOO can write a good Christian (TM) romance! Just leave out the fact that the guy has a Y chromosome! Leave out the fact that the gal has two X chromosomes! Don't refer to the fact that God in His love created them different ON PURPOSE!

And now that we're past the tough stuff: no divorced characters, no unsaved people doing unsaved stuff like cussing or having a glass of Chablis.

No--these strictures don't fall into the classification of rules.

And oh, by the way, once you're finished deleting all this stuff, make sure it's the book of your heart and that you're writing what YOU want.


Sue Dent said...

LOL Deb, you kill me. LOL Don't worry, I set the guy straight. What in the world is wrong with saying your a niche and sticking to that!!!!

Like nobody can google all all the "conventions" CBA/ECPA publishers put on EVERY author that goes through their affiliated publishers. Yes, I was born yesterday! Slap me!!!! LOLROFL