At one point in my life – years ago now – I used to inhale books like they were air. I would ready almost anything I could get my hands on. That is until writing ruined me. It’s also what made me into a reviewer.
All that to say – I don’t know how to read passively.
Pleasure reading is a lost art for me. And I must say – for anyone who aspires to write – I hope you find yourself in this place as well. If you can read without feeling like an editor, you’re not doing it right. Sometimes, I find myself wishing I could have been there to give the a book its last go-through. Although, I’ll bet the author is thankful I wasn’t. I have a lot of opinions.
Like that one book where the hero and heroine were too perfect to be interesting or relatable.
Or that other one, where the pacing was too slow and lacked any real tension.
Or the one where the dialogue was lacking.
Or the narration unbelievable.
I never read passively. The day I start reading passively is the day I stop learning how to tell a good story. Haven’t you ever heard the phrase, “write the book you want to read?”
Whenever I read a book that’s lacking, I ask myself how I would fix this? What changes would I make to turn this into one of my favorite reads?
When I ask myself that question, I start asking similar questions of my own work. How is my tension? My pacing? My characters? My narration? My dialogue? It’s the perfect springboard.
For example: One of my all time favorite reads is Kristen Heitzmann’s The Rose Legacy. Now, you many recognize Heitzmann for her suspense novels, but this particular novel is a historical. So I have to ask myself, why is a historical romance written by a suspense novelist one of my favorites? Because she understands tension! Tension is the bread and butter of suspense.
So in my own writing, I’ve tried to learn from the way Heitzmann writes suspense.
Another example: I recently read and reviewed The Chapel Car Bride by Judith Miller for Bethany House. Despite my hopes – it has a great premise – I did not enjoy this book. So I asked myself why? And I came to this conclusion… because I didn’t relate to her characters. They felt underdeveloped. Her heroine, for example, is said to be too trusting, but it came across as naive beyond reason. And her hero wanted to be a pastor, but I didn’t really see any context for this desire. Also, for being a romance, she summarized the romance and put all the effort into other aspects of the story, so the relationship/connection between the two didn’t feel very strong.
So in my own writing, I’ve tried to work harder on character development.
I’ve also gleaned historical research usage from Sarah Sundin. Learned what slow pacing looks like from Janette Oke (I love When Calls the Heart, but only the first book from the Canadian West was good). And then there’s the wonderful honesty of Joanne Bischof – there are wonderfully conflicted characters in Be Still My Soul.
Read Suspense and Mysteries for help with tension.
Read Fantasy for world-building.
Read Historicals for research.
Read Romance for character development.
Read Contemporary for relevance.
Watch TV shows for dialogue. No joke.
Because, you see, I think we should all aspire to write the best story ever written.
And I’m sure you’ve also heard it said, in order to be a writer, you must also be a reader?
This is why. This is exactly why!
Never stop reading. Never stop learning. Never read passively.