Reading Others to Hone your Writing

If you’ve never read a book, or haven’t read one for quite some time, and you’re psyched up to write . . . there’s a good chance you’ll write something that is far from worthwhile. Yikes – what a kick of a paragraph to start with. Unfortunately it’s true.

To become a writer who can persuade a reader to believe in their words rather than glaze over, you have to read.


Don’t just read ‘How to’ guides.

Read novels.

Read them.

Feel them.

Watch the words dance.

Look for the breaks.

Observe the transition from sentence to paragraph.

List the words that jump off the page.

How is dialogue handled?

Does the author apply hooks on a regular basis?

How many slow moments are there in the novel, and when do the high adrenaline pumping moments kick in?

How do you feel when you reading a page that’s a massive block of text without spaces?

Hate it?  Well, don’t do it when you write.

It’s how you hone any craft. Practice and learn.


The next point may scour a nerve, but I state it with good intentions. Pick traditionally published novels when gaining insight into what works. Of course, there are masses of e-books that have been edited, proofed, set out and polished as they should be . . . but if you want to gain a view of what traditional editors, publishers, agents like . . . look to the trad.

If you didn’t know, I’m focusing on the YA market with an injection of Fantasy and Science-Fiction. To keep up with trend, I read around that genre, rather than poetry or romantic fiction. I recall meeting somebody who was an addicted reader of Mills and Boon, but focused on writing child fiction. I read a sample and came to the conclusion that most 7- year-olds won’t give a Jack Sparrow about love triangles between young heroes in a playground. Focus. Focus. Focus.

But . . . once you have a clear mindset of what works in your genre, then reading outside of that (ie: Mills and Boon) will help you to develop and maybe create an interesting tangent to the norm. I’m always injecting a running theme of romance in my novels, even though the genre is Sci-Fiantasy.

Make notes on patterns, the character’s names, the structure, length of chapters, and the change in narration from snail-pace to immediate. I adore one-page chapters that are full of action or a moment that deserves to stand-alone. How many times have you considered a one-page chapter? Try it – they do work.


Some observations:

Don’t have more than two characters whose name’s begin with the same letter. Novels that contain Jack, John, Jacob, June, Jeremy can get quite confusing.

Give the reader a panoramic view of the page with paragraphs, space, and varied in size sentences. NB: Compare a book with lots of space on the margins to a book with long blocks.

Observe the stages of conflict in novels. At what stage does it kick off? First line? First paragraph? Did you think that you knew the main conflict only for it to take on a new form by the end of the page? Haha – gotcha!

How skilful are authors with handling multiple POV and the dangerous game of head-hopping? Do they use breaks in a chapter before they jump? Or do they jump as and when they want? Can you keep up?

Do descriptions flow on what the POV character experiences or do we see every groove on every log that’s been cut from a tree with a shiny axe? Too much description can stifle and bore the reader. Use it wisely. How does an author bring you into their world without a map?

Is there a pattern in the first three chapters of novels you’ve read? Why am I focusing on three; well, an agent or an editor may give you up to chapter three before they judge you. If you haven’t got the reader pumping the air, and most of your conflict doesn’t occur until chapter five, then you’ve lost the war.


Below are some recent novels (and their patterns) that have helped me to move from a multiple-POV writer to a third-person-limited POV.

Wereworld by Curtis Jobling

Ch 1 = Introduced to MC, Drew. We gauge his home, family and relationships and an inkling of a threat.

In the following chapters we are introduced to the inner conflict, loss and danger about the MC that sets the novel up.

If the key event of Drew’s transformation had happened later, I would’ve felt betrayed by the author. If your novel is called: Curse of the Vampire; please don’t leave it until the third Act before the vampire arises.


Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Ch 1 = Tally sneaking away to a forbidden location. Instantly we relate to the MC and her motive.

Ch 2 = The issues of one life over another become clear. Her goal/aim is made concrete.

Ch 3 = Tally meets Shey . . . and a change begins that ‘although’ predictable, didn’t disappoint.


Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda

Ch 1 = Ash family setting, relationships and snippets of danger are given.

Ch 2 = Surprises galore especially the evil desire of a character.

Ch 3 = More setting, more evil, and a reflective stance by Ash.

All three novels satisfy and leave you wanting more by the end of chapter 3. All of them play with imagery without going over the top. Clever prose.


Wereworld taught me about structure and how to tease the back story in. Uglies taught me how to make sub-characters (who have no POV) as important and endearing to the reader through the eyes of the MC. Ash Mistry taught me how to let your hair down and have a laugh but also to control the chuckles when a serious, evil scene unfolds.


If it weren’t for books . . . my words would be just doodles.