I read fiction differently now that I've written Astrid's first draft. I pay attention to the way an author marks time in a way I never did before. I look at the way the story transitions from the end of chapters to the beginning of new ones. It is fascinating and instructive.
My list and piles of books to read are an eclectic assortment of presidential bios, spirituality, literary fiction, and other subjects thrown into the mix. I generally do not read the latest craze when it's the latest craze. A quirk in my personality prevents me from wanting to read what everyone else is reading, so when 50 Shades of Gray the movie was soon to open this past winter, I still hadn't read the book. A friend wanted us to go to the movie, but felt I should read the book first, and so she loaned me her kindle.
Before my friend's interest in turning the movie into a girls' night, I'd had no interest in the book or its hype. The subject matter held no appeal to me.
I was six or seven weeks into writing Astrid's story exclusively, so when I read anything, I read it as a writer. Because I was paying attention to character development (or lack thereof), plot, and scene, I didn't get caught up in the scandalous aspects of the story the way I might have if I was “just a reader.” In fact, reading it as a writer made me think, what's really the big damn deal? They are both adults. He doesn't force anything on her. She's curious, and so she explores this alternative lifestyle.
Plus, as I read, I kept saying to myself, “Oh my gosh, she hasn't signed his contract! She hasn't signed his contract!” That's where the tension in the plot was. I didn't expect that, and I liked noticing it as an element of craft. Because I read this book as a writer, I actually liked it more than I expected I would.
I also gained a good bit of confidence in my own fiction writing. I kept thinking, “Up against this bestseller, my story's not so bad. My characters are have more depth than hers—and she sold millions of copies.” Our genres are vastly different, but reading 50 Shades of Gray as a writer helped me think about my characters and how I wanted to tell their stories.
I recently re-read my favorite book Love Walked In and its sequel Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos for the express purpose of studying how this gifted writer told a story from two different perspectives—first person and third person. Laura Munson had suggested I structure Astrid's story by telling it from hers and her brother, Derrick's, perspectives. I liked the idea. I liked it even more as I re-read the way Cornelia told the story in first person and Clare's story was told in third person. By the eighth page of Love Walked In, I determined that Astrid's story would unfold in third-person and Derrick would tell his story in first person.
This epiphany might not have come to me—or come as easily—if I hadn't been reading another's work as a study in craft.
Writers must be readers. You'll hear well-known authors say it so often you'll think it's cliché, but I know first-hand how important it is. Find authors in the genre you want to write in and read their work like a textbook. You'll learn so much.