Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Reading while I Write

I know there are writers who don’t read books in the genre that they’re writing, especially while they’re writing, but I’ve never been one of them. I can't help myself. I suppose it's in part the reason I want to write a certain kind of book in the first place -- I love that kind of story, so it makes perfect sense to read it. From an industry perspective, I also like to know what's out there, what's selling, etc, though you can't obsess on those things, of course (yeah, right).

Lately, I’ve been sucking up as much paranormal/urban fantasy as I can find, primarily because I love it, but also because I want to write it. So, for a while I’ve been reading a steady diet of paranormal/UF, but recently it's been all I read, namely Eileen Wilks, Charlaine Harris, Patricia Briggs, JR Ward, Christine Feehan, and Nina Bangs, among several others. They all take me to new, exciting places as a reader and a writer, and I always learn a little something.

What fascinates me at the moment is how a writer can make a big story happen in a small setting. McKee says something about this in STORY, about making your setting small to increase impact, but I was never as conscious of it as I have been recently.

When setting constrains the story, a writer manages to create something very intense, all focused on character. I’m thinking of the movie Phone Booth, which I thought was brilliant, and The Bourne Identity (while Ludlum takes his character through many settings, we don’t really notice them – it’s all about the character).

When a writer digs deep into character, a lot can happen in a confined space – right now I’m reading Christine Feehan’s Deadly Game, and I’m about halfway through, and realized she’s had me on the edge of my seat like the best action movies will, but still, not a whole lot has happened externally. There actually hasn't been a lot of action. They change location, have a few close calls, but if you think about it, not a lot has actually happened. Feehan manages to give the impression of action, but she doesn't let a lot of external action/movement distract us from what's going on with the characters.

It’s because she goes deep on character, and that’s where the real action is. In Feehan’s book, the intensity of the interaction between the characters, the immediate sexual tension, the imminent danger, and the backstory all serve to provide a sense of action. They talk a lot, think a lot, and yet it’s not boring in the least. She also focuses on the attraction between the characters on every single page -- she almost never leaves it, like the best marketing, she "stays on message." I don't know if I've ever read a book with his much focus.

So, while I'm reading I'm enjoying myself, but I'm also absorbing all of these lessons, which is another reason I like to read what I write. We have to have role models, those who go before us to not only show us how it's done, but to show us how we can break free and do it our own way -- it's tough to know if you have anything new if you don't know what's out there in the first place.

What do you read while you write? Do you read what you're writing, or things that are very different?



Christie Craig said...


Like you I read while I write. And I don’t limit myself to what I read when I’m writing. I love romantic comedy, romantic suspense, paranormals. I write mostly romantic comedy. Right now I’m reading one by Nina Bangs, Wicked Pleasure. And it is wicked.

Samantha Hunter said...

Christie, I just finished that one a few weeks ago -- that one was something. LOL She's so funny -- I think reading so many paranormals/UFs in a clump like I have been lately really shows me the range of tone and approach.

Bangs had a relatively small location in that book, as well, the theme park and the smallish area of Gavelston (I'm remembering right, I hope) -- I recall the first half of the book at least having that same kind of focus and people interacting in small spaces...they couldn't turn corners without bumping into each other. Sometimes the bumping was more sexy than others, LOL.


Samantha Hunter said...

Uh, meant "Galveston." Sorry, Texas natives, for the previous typo. ;)

Nancy Herkness said...

Very interesting question, Sam! Like you, I write romance because I love to read it. However, I am very, very picky about what I read in my subgenre, contemporary romance, when I'm writing. I don't want to pick up any bad habits.

OTOH, I will read historical or paranormal in a much more relaxed way because it doesn't have such a direct application to the book I'm working on.

Right now I'm reading Lisa Kleypas' first contemporary novel SUGAR DADDY and finding it absolutely fantastic. I adore her historicals and was a bit worried about her change in period/setting but I think she's just as good, if not better, in the present day in Texas.

Sierra Donovan said...

I read while I write, though I tend to find I have less time to do so! And I do like to read my own subgenre, though I enjoy jumping around. In fact, these days I usually don't read two books of the same type in a row.

The one type of book I will try to avoid is one with a premise that's VERY similar to an idea I have in the hopper. I usually check it out eventually, but I wait until I have enough of my own story down so that I don't have to worry that I might have picked up some of the other author's ideas by accident.