By Amanda Barratt
It’s always a delight to chat with aspiring authors. With a smile, I always ask what kind of stories they love to write, and listen attentively as they share their ideas. Invariably, the conversation leads to me asking another question. “Are you familiar with the work of authors who write in your genre?”
Usually, the answer is yes. But sometimes, I receive a blank look. “No. Not really. I’m not much of a reader.”
The first time this happened, I was left fumbling for words. A writer who’s not a reader? To me, that’s equivalent to a director who never watches movies, or a chef who never visits restaurants.
Writing workshops are amazing. Books on the craft of writing are wonderful. But there’s no better way to learn the delicate balance of plot and character, the subtleties of emotional resonance, the rapid-fire play of wit-laced dialogue, than by reading the work of authors who are masters of the craft.
Since the beginning stages of my writing journey, I’ve spent twice as much time reading as I have attending workshops, studying how-to books, and reading writing blogs. And I’ve gleaned twice as much insight into the nuances of the craft. Not only do I read, I study. Usually, I begin by reading a novel or work of nonfiction like any ordinary reader, pausing now and then to study sentence structure, consider why that paragraph stirred my heart. If, after finishing the last page, I know I’ve found a book that raises the bar on craft, characters, and storytelling, I re-read it. This time, I pay close attention to every scene, taking mental or sometimes actual notes on what worked and what didn’t. Even in the best stories, there are weak links. A line of dialogue that feels off, or a scene that doesn’t quite flow. I pause and consider what the author could have done differently.
This critical thinking is especially helpful to cultivate, and then utilize when I’m editing my own work. Mostly, though, I focus on the positive. That unforgettable character or memorable line of dialogue, a seamlessly woven theme that will forever linger in my thoughts. The best books are experiences, and when I discover a story that draws me in and paints a landscape of people and places in vivid color, I know I’ve found one for my keeper shelf.
Our minds are like sponges as we read, growing and absorbing. As we take the time to study the craft of writing through the works of others, our own stories will become all the richer.
The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. Charles Spurgeon
ECPA best-selling author Amanda Barratt fell in love with writing in grade school when she wrote her first story—a spinoff of Jane Eyre. Now, Amanda writes romantic, historical fiction, penning stories of beauty and brokenness set against the backdrop of bygone eras not so very different from our own. Her novel My Dearest Dietrich: A Novel of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Lost Love released from Kregel Publications in June 2019. She’s also the author of My Heart Belongs in Niagara Falls, New York: Adele’s Journey, as well as seven novellas with Barbour Publishing. Two of her novellas have been finalists in the FHL Reader’s Choice Awards. Amanda lives in the woods of Michigan with her fabulous family, where she can be found reading way too many books, plotting her next novel, and jotting down imaginary travel itineraries for her dream vacation to Europe. Connect with her on Facebook and visit her online at amandabarratt.net. Social Media Links: Website: www.amandabarratt.net Facebook: www.facebook.com/amandabarrattauthor Twitter: www.twitter.com/amandambarratt