Reading equals win.

“I find television to be very educating.

Every time somebody turns on the set,

I go in the other room and read a book.”

Groucho Marx

“The man who does not read good books

has no advantage

over the man who can’t read them.”

Mark Twain

     As a screenwriter and filmmaker, I watch movies so frequently and constantly that if I were paid to do this, I’d be rich no matter the rate.  As a novelist…

     Until I read The Road, by Cormac McCarthy in January of this year, I hadn’t read a fictional book in over a year.  The last book before that had been Dragons of Spring Dawning by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman… in like July of 2009.  So when I came back to writing prose, my mastery of the English language was a little rusty.  What I learned from writing screenplays was how to be concise, write only action, and keep things moving with a bare minimum of words.  In books, that doesn’t always work so well.  Yes, being concise and writing action is great, but when you’ve got to meet 40,000 words for your story to be a novel, you find yourself wondering how others do it — especially when your own work winds up close to the midpoint at 12k words.

     That’s where reading comes in.  I used to think it wasn’t necessary to read in order to write well.  Perhaps that is true, but the more I read the more I see how sentences are mastered, how description flows, how narrative is laid out and exposition kept fluid.  As I read McCarthy, I learned how to write stark, distinct sentences.  As I read Schlink (Bernhard Schlink, The Reader), I learned how to keep prose flowing and how to write non-linear narrative in a linear story.  As I read Capote (Truman Capote, The Complete Works of Truman Capote), I’m learning how to describe without boring the reader, how to relate a character’s thoughts without saying “he thought/she thought.”

     Today I borrowed Stieg Larsson’s international bestseller, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I’ve already seen the Swedish film adaptation, and look forward to the American remake by David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, The Social Network).  The novel is thick — I’m talking almost 600 pages, compared to the 250-page novels I’ve been reading — but when I opened it and read the first couple pages, I knew Larsson knew his way around a sentence.  I look forward to reading and learning from this acclaimed novel.

     The long-story-short is that you can write prose without reading prose.  But you’re not making it any easier on yourself.  Simply writing is the number one way to learn how to write — but it’s my personal belief that this is only true if you’re reading as well.

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2 thoughts on “Reading equals win.

  1. Reading is something I need to do more of as I haven’t read a book in months. I really enjoy Charles Dickens’ works. His books of a way of pulling you into the story and I forget that I’m even reading a book.

    I’m really interested in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I saw the preview for the movie and would love to read the book first.

  2. “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” – Stephen King
    I suppose that there might be some writers who are exceptions, but I’ve never met one. :-)

    dan

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