How You Can Use Your Reading Experience to Shape Your Writing

Author Photo Please welcome guest blogger FC Malby, whose debut novel, Take Me to the Castle, published in December 2012, won The People’s Book Awards.

F.C. Malby lives in Vienna but grew up in East Anglia and has taught English in London, the Czech Republic, and in slum communities in the Philippines. She was a teacher and a wedding photographer before beginning to write. Her short story, The Bench, was published March 2013, and her short fiction has been long-listed in The New Writer Annual Prose and Poetry Awards and will soon be published online at the Puffin Review and the Flash Flood Journal.  As always, we’d love to hear from you so please do leave a comment 🙂

How You Can Use Your Reading Experience to Shape Your Writing?

Ian McEwan reads for as many hours a day as he writes and its impact can been seen in his writing and in his ability to build characters and inform the reader. Authors are generally also voracious readers and will devour books in a range of genres. This will subconsciously filter into an author’s writing but how can you use it to consciously shape your writing and inform your work?

Characters

Think about the characters you have become attached to in some of your favourite novels and try to dig down into the roots of the character’s needs and desires. Try to work out why they resonated with you as a reader and use this to feed into your character profiles.

Hook

Which books have you struggled to put down? How has the author held your attention and had you turning the pages (or scrolling through) until the small hours? Finding an effective hook in a story is the linchpin of a good novel. Without it, there is nothing to hang the rest of the story on and build the story arc. Find ways of building anticipation and suspense through good mystery or thriller writers, especially if this is your genre.

Genre

It is good advice to read outside your genre to stretch your thinking but it is also important to read inside your genre and to learn about the text structures, language, plot devices, style and the mechanics of the writing. This can then be transferred to your own writing. If you write literary fiction, reading books which have a rich style of language which captivates and hauls you in can be particularly helpful. Soak up the work of writers who will help you to raise your game.

Learn from what doesn’t work

Find out what does not work in books which you have struggled to read. Are there any books which you have read where you struggled to get past the first chapter? Look at where you have come unstuck and try to work out why. Try to think about what could be improved and how, and then use this to tighten your work.

Inspiration

Read as much as you can from a diversity of sources: books, journals, newspapers, blogs, websites and periodicals. Read good non-fiction as well as fiction and use what you read to inspire both ideas and styles. Look at what grabs your attention and what stays with you long after you have stopped reading and build it into your own work.

Knowledge

Research has shown that when children read extensively they become better writers. If this is true for new readers, imagine how much more it applies to adults who are writing fiction on a larger scale. Reading for research is particularly important for non-fiction and for historical novels. I spent hours researching for my recently published novel and it is the one thing that readers mention time and time again, that they learned a great deal from the experience because of the research that went into it. If you particularly enjoy research or are keen on a certain topic area, research won’t feel like hard work, it will be a pleasurable task.

In what ways has your reading experience informed your writing? Can you think of any good books you have read which have fired up your writing embers? Share your thoughts.

The Bench Cover Image

Take Me to the Castle Cover Image

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8 Responses to How You Can Use Your Reading Experience to Shape Your Writing

  1. fcmalby says:

    Thanks for hosting my post, Marianne.

  2. Excellent post, I agree it’s vital to read widely if you want to writen and you make some great points about how careful reading can directly inform your own writing

    • fcmalby says:

      Thank you for your comments. It is really important to read widely and not just say in your genre. It expands your understanding of style and technique.

  3. Ruth F Hunt says:

    A very interesting and well written post, and I love Ian mcEwan too!

  4. A great post. I used to mostly read crime fiction but last year joined a book club with the specific intent of broadening my reading horizons. I’m really glad I did because I’m enjoying it so much and yes, I am getting a real feel of how characters are shaped more, simply by reading out of genre.

    • fcmalby says:

      Hi Rebecca, It’s good to branch out and to stretch yourself. Book groups are a great way try a range of novels with the impetus to read each one. If you are in Pamreaders book group you are in for a treat, the choices are really good.

  5. fcmalby says:

    He is, undoubtedly, a talented author and I have learned a great deal from his writing. Thank you for your comments.

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