For many of us, as the world opens up again, it’s become increasingly harder to find the time to read. While I’ve always considered myself a big reader, I’ve recently realised that I had so much more time to read in the past year than any other. Now I’m squeezing my reading in on trains, in my lunch break, and as I cook – narrowly avoiding dropping books into my frying pan! But why am I doing this? Two reasons:
- I love reading stories and the way they make me feel.
- I write my own stories – and I know just how much I can learn from fellow writers.
In my last post (here’s Reading like a writer part 1, if you missed it!), I talked to you about the importance of reading like a writer to get a grasp on how writers perfect plot, character, and prose. There’s still so much more that books can teach us – so let’s talk about how to read with an eye on dialogue, setting, and voice.
I know I’m capable of having a conversation in real life (in fact, usually you can’t shut me up!), but it’s so hard to write realistic dialogue that doesn’t slow the pace of the story.
This is why I suggest reading dialogue in published books. While reading, ask yourself:
- Is it lifelike?
- Does it drive the plot forward?
- Does it give an insight into each character?
By seeing how other writers construct and pace their dialogue, you’ll be well on your way to writing dialogue that doesn’t make you want to scream.
Learn from: A play or screenplay of your choice. (By reading a form of writing that is so reliant on dialogue you’ll learn from the best!)
Reading for setting
Setting is vital for creating an unforgettable atmosphere for your reader. Whether your novel is set in an open plan office or an open plain, your reader needs to live your characters’ experience.
Open a book and note down how the author uses the five senses. Can you see, smell, hear, touch, even taste the place they’re describing? How does the place make you feel? How does it work with the subject matter of the novel? Is it a beautiful place that contrasts with a horrific crime that occurs? Or a place that exemplifies the themes of the novel? Then, think – how can you make your setting work for you?
Learn from: Shocked Earth by Saskia Goldschmidt, translated by Antoinette Fawcett. (Set on a Dutch farm shocked by earthquakes, the setting is beautifully described and carefully intertwined with the narrative.)
Reading for voice
Voice is all about the unique way you tell your story – so how can you learn about it from other writers? Well, voice is a complex thing, and learning how an author translates a character’s traits into a distinctive voice can only help you on the way.
When reading, note down what you notice about the voice. Does the author use long or short sentences? Is there impact of an accent or dialect? Is there a recurring theme in the way a narrator describes things?
Then, revisit the list and ask yourself why the author has done this. Does an impulsive narrator use short, sharp lines? Or does an overly analytical character use meandering sentences? By examining the voice of other writers, you should have some inspiration on how to create a unique voice of your own!
Learn from: Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn. (The novel has 5 different narrators – each of whom are immediately distinctive from just a line of writing in their voice. Washburn uses dialect and verbal quirks, based on the character’s personality, to differentiate between voices.)
Tell me what you’re reading at the moment – what have you learned? Is the dialogue lifelike? Can you imagine yourself in the setting? Is the voice so distinctive that you can almost hear the narrator talking directly to you?
Remember, we’re always happy to chat about writing, so do drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions!