Posted by: Gwendolyn Huber | August 14, 2012

Writers Need To Read

“Read like a wolf eats.” – Gary Paulsen

“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.” – Stephen King

“If you want to become a better writer, read,” is advice I’ve heard many times since embarking on my writing adventure. I’d hoped that would be knowledge through osmosis, because while I’ve always read a lot (when I was a child my mother worried that I read too much, and I haven’t improved since then), I tend to fall into the deep pool of the story the author creates and drown until the last page spits me back up on shore again.

“Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.” ~William Faulkner

Lately, I’m delighted to discover things I’ve read about in blogs and books that have been jumping off the page, hitting me over the head and shouting “There’s the stakes,” “Oh look, that’s why we care.” “Over here, inciting incident.” Or, “Whoops, that threw me out of the story.”

This week, after reading a new Colin Cotterill book (one of my newest writing heroes), “Put your character in a tree and throw progressively larger rocks at him” began flashing at me in neon colors.

 An example from Cotterill’s book: A Tree – Our heroine hasn’t dated for awhile. What would make that worse? She is longing to have sex again. What would make that worse? It would be worse if she has to listen to her (single) mother having sex in the next room. What would make that worse? If our heroine is so frustrated that she propositions inappropriate men. What would make that worse? If everyone knows she’s propositioned unavailable men. What would make that worse? If she discovers she’s been unknowingly taking the female equivalent of Viagra.

Finally I see in the most crystal clear way that a character can be up more than one tree at a time and that these rocks can have a logical progression.  

Noticing what other writers have done hasn’t destroyed my enjoyment of reading. It has given me one more thing to enjoy in a story.

“We read to know that we are not alone.”  –William Nicholson


  1. Timely topic! I just finished a novel last night and had the opposite effect. I felt as though I picked the story apart all the way through. (Where are the stakes? Where is the emotional connection here?) But I have had the “Aha! There it is… well done on that technique” moments, too. I don’t know if a nonwriter would notice. They’ll love a well-written book and not know (or care) why. We love a well-written book and we do know why.
    I have read over a hundred novels in the past two years and I’m at the point where I can easily tell big-six published from self-pubbed and micro press. The quality in storytelling is so obvious.I think it’s made me a big six snob. Would a nonwriter care about who published?


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