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