Reading to Write

While I’ve been going through the exercise of making a chapter outline and synopsis of my first novel manuscript, I’ve also returned to what was probably my first love: reading fiction.

It isn’t as if I haven’t been reading fiction at all; it is more like I haven’t been particularly selective about the fiction I have been reading. I have gotten my fiction fix from audiobooks a lot of the time, which for some reason I don’t actually count as “reading” even though the researchers seem to count it as such. I’ve been consuming tons of non-fiction over the past decade or two, especially about the commercial and craft aspects of writing. Unfortunately I sacrificed a lot of the time I once spent reading fiction in order to fit that in. So much of the writing about writing suggests that writers should read, read, read, not just write. It makes perfect sense.

Know your genre… so they say.

I write dystopian thrillers in a near-future world beset by environmental degradation and political oppression.  So, as you might guess, I’ve always been a fan of 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 and those sorts of classics. I decided to go find some new stuff along those lines. I picked up the Divergent series by Veronica Roth and tore into it. I finished the first two and am well into the third. I saw that they released a movie version of the first one, which always hits me with mixed emotions. I watched the trailer and recognized everything in it as from the book, so maybe it won’t be all that bad.

So, in reading Veronica Roth, I’ve recognized little subtle bits in her writing that bug me about my own writing, a tiny bit of stiffness (which is not an intentional pun, but ends up being one if you have read the books) where dialogue or narrative could be a bit more natural or true-to-voice. Every time I go through my manuscript, I find a little spot that could be better done. I suppose it is impossible to catch everything. Knowing that she has achieved such commercial success perhaps without catching every tiny little spot that she might have improved gives me hope.

Also, as a writer, from time to time I can see her struggling with the limitations of the first person point of view. I started writing my manuscript in first person to begin with and I got talked out of it. I’m glad that I did. Now that I’m writing in third person, I find first person so limiting. In her third book of the series, Allegiant, she continues writing in the first person, but begins switching the point of view character. This makes for difficult reading sometimes. She does clearly label each chapter with the POV character’s name, but I can’t help getting confused about who “I” is from time to time. This is especially true when it is getting late and I am in bed. I have to go looking back just to make sure I know who “I” is. It is a little distracting, and confirmation to me that I made the right choice for the POV in my manuscript, especially since I have always intended for it to be the first of a series. I would be willing to bet coffee and a bagel that Veronica Roth started writing in first person and later wished that she hadn’t because she got stuck with it after the publication of Divergent, thus the POV-hopping in Allegiant.

No changing horses in mid-stream for me.

Thanks for showing me that, Veronica Roth, and for bringing me into that world. You did a kick-ass job with the books. I’ve enjoyed them. I hope you are satisfied with the film version.

And so I read on…

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