When I started writing plays in high school I was given the advice to “read, read plays, and read lots of different plays.” I imagine my eyes must have gone wide with shock hearing this. “Lots of plays?” It’s not hard to read a book, the author tells you all the actions taking place. A play is just not always a simple thing to read and comprehend. It takes some thinking, you can’t be half asleep reading most plays. Only about a quarter of the length of an average paperback novel, some plays still may take twice as long to finish. I did follow the advice I was given to read lots of plays. I have a pretty nice collection of plays on displays with my books. It was valuable as a playwright to read other plays. It helped me refine the ability to read and hear the dialog while following the action purely by the words being said. I also got a better handle on the amount of stage direction I liked or felt was needed.
Writers Advice #4 –”Read”
When I hear other authors recommend reading (books), and reading often, I relax. I can read books. Twist my arm, I love reading books. Why is reading other works a helpful exercise or tool for other writers? There’s a handful of reasons, but I believe it comes down to learning from the good, the bad, and the ugly.
What you can learn from the good. There is a well-known and established practice called “copying from the masters”. A writer takes a classic story and uses it as a blue print or template to build their own story. Master Shakespeare copied from the Bible, and the works of Jane Austin have been made into countless novels and pop culture screenplays.
If you don’t need a template story, there is still much to be learned from a good book. Pay attention to the style and pacing of the works you enjoy. How was a particular character framed making you as the reader adore or hate them? Why do you love your favorite book? Break it down into the technical composition terms of writing. Think about pacing, proportion, dialog, characterization, narrative, and exposition. When you can identify the why-and pin point the technical reason a particular work was good, then you are learning how to use the same mechanics in your own work.
What you can learn from the bad & the ugly. Just like the good, you should pay equal attention to writing you don’t like. Let it teach you “what not to do.” If the read is dragging, dig in and pin point why. Are you reading endless pages of exposition narrative? If you hate the protagonist, it’s valuable to determine where the author lost you. If you feel the urge to skip-take note-figure out why. Observing others mistakes should help us learn, and hopefully prevent us from creating identical writing blunders.