1. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    Do Writers Make Better or Worse Readers?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by xanadu, Feb 14, 2009.

    They say doctors make the worst patients. Can the same be said about us?

    When we read stories, we generally tend to read them as writers. Yet, most of the people that would wind up reading our own work would not be writers, meaning they would not be reading it the same way a writer would.

    For instance, I have never in my life heard a reader with no writing experience (outside of school, of course) say, "I had to stop reading because there were too many adverbs." I've never heard a reader complain about dialogue tags or the use of synonyms of "said." It doesn't seem like readers without experience as writers really seem to care about these technical, dare I say nit-picky details that many writers seem to either love or loathe.

    I've shown some of my work to unbiased readers (aka NOT family/friends); work using a lot of semicolons, adverbs, adjectives, and a bit more telling than I would normally like (even one piece with the entire first paragraph full of alliteration), and none of them mentioned any of it. All of the feedback I got was on the content of the story itself. On the contrary, one piece had shifting POV (a convention that seems to be acceptable among writers) and was told never to use it. Ever. Apparently it prevents connection between reader and character. The point is, readers who aren't writers don't seem to care about many of the things we scrutinize; they just want a good story to read.

    So, my question. Obviously writers are different readers. But do we spend too much time looking for things that, in essence, go ignored by general readers? Or do these things really matter, and readers just don't realize it? Do writers make better or worse readers?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think it is a matter of writers vs non-writers, really. You don't have to be a writer to be a discerning reader. However, to be a decent writer you DO have to be a discerning reader.

    Someone who is a critical reader, regardless of wbether or not he or she writes, will be better able to put a finger on why a piece of writing appeals or does not appeal. Alsp, an experienced reader is more able to separate feelings about the subject matter from the quality of the writing itself.

    For instance, one reader might start into a book, and exclaim, "Oooh, I like vampire romances!" Another would say, "As much as I like vampire romances, who really talks like this character? This is crap."

    I know many avid readers who have no interest whatsoever in writing. My son is one of them, and he is a very sharp-eyed critic who often points out things in my writing that no one here picks up on.
     
  3. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Interesting you should mention that. I first read Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises when I was a young man. It recall that it was "okay", but a little slow in the first half. I am currently re-reading it and it is gawd-awful! Run-on sentences, no "hook" in the beginning, slow plot development and dialog that reminds me of a slow soap opera. I'm surprised that I finished it the first time. I desperately want to chuck it out the nearest window. Fortunately, I just finished a great Louis L'Amour last night, so I can stand to wade through this EH-drivel a bit longer.

    I believe my reaction to the Hemingway book...this time around...reflects more critical expectations since I started looking at writing from a writer's perspective.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    when i read for pleasure, as a pastime, i read only as a 'reader'...

    when i read in order to study someone's writing, i read as a writer...

    that doesn't mean i don't notice poor writing glitches when i see them, but i don't let them get in the way of enjoying a good story...

    that said, when choosing something to read for pleasure, i sure do look at the content blurb and the opening's writing quality with a writer's eye and mind!
     
  5. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sure, we may be more aware of strengths and weaknesses, but that doesn't mean anything. Lots of good writers are able to enjoy books that are poorly written simply because they are able to read just for fun and ignore flaws.
     
  6. Slippery
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    Slippery Contributing Member

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    In the beginning of class my creative writing prof said something like "At the end of this course, you may or may not be able to write good writing, but one thing is certain: At the end of this course, you will be able to tell the good writing from the bad."

    Little did we know that what that meant was him flicking a switch, illuminating all the little nuances of a piece with a blacklight. You know, the one that reveals all the stains you thought you washed out of your sweater.

    Maybe you have to learn to turn off that blacklight sometimes. I can't, at least not yet.
     
  7. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    I have been a critical reader since I was about 10... I had never even tried to write seriously until a little over a month ago. But I would notice things like the issue of said vs dialogue tags.

    When I read books like Twilight (years ago, before even really considering writing) I noticed the 'saids' coming at me like bullets. said, said, said, said, said - what the hell? Pick up a thesaurus! It would drive me up a wall. But I never noticed dialogue tags, which explain a feeling or action, except to admire them. This, to me, is good descriptive writing when used properly. When I started writing I had a lot of dialogue tags. The first guy to critique my work told me to remove every single one and replace all with 'said'. I tried that just to see how it would go... and it stripped all life from my writing! Some things are better shown, but if you find yourself writing up hundreds of actions and lines of speech which the characters are unlikely to say or do.... just for the sake of eliminating dialogue tags... then your writing suffers. in this way, writers criticising writers on technical issues can be more negative than helpful.

    After receiving this criticism, I thought to myself: "so, if this is such awful writing, how in the heck did I pick up the habbit?" My writing is based on what I read - that's how I learned - and I usually read great books from worthy authors. I checked out one of my favorite authors of all time, (George R.R. Martin) this time with a "writer's eye". Guess what? He writes pages and pages of dialogue, sometimes without ever using the word 'said'. More importantly - this is what I loved in his writing. So wonderfully descriptive without having to drag everything out. He's not obsessed with showing vs telling. He doesn't give a rat's fart about dialogue tags. He writes very naturally, and you really notice this when listening to the audio books. The words sound like music. Perfect. He uses said where said works best. He describes where description can enhance. All things in the right place.

    With all of that said: It is important to keep everything in mind, and as I have said in other threads, I'm on the side of balance in all things... As it happens, I was using too many dialogue tags, and I use said more often now, or indicate the speaker with an action. But in the end, the important thing to keep in mind is whether or not your writing is truly enjoyable. How does it sound? If it sounds 'right' to you as a reader, then it's probably ok. If it sounds 'off' somehow, then it's time to figure out why, and other writers will most likely see the issues. I often read my writing out loud, and it often sounds a little off. Sometimes I can't put my finger on just what needs changing, so posting to a site like this is really invaluable. I have received a lot of great advice already and my writing has improved immeasurably:).
     
  8. Penny Dreadful
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    Penny Dreadful Senior Member

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    For me the question is usually, "Do readers make better or worse writers?". It's a slippery slope. I love to read. Reading has made me a better writer. Reading while I'm writing is sometimes harmful... but I'm always working on any number of writing projects. If I love an authors style, it might start leaking into my own - which, obviously causes issues.

    With that said, I'm a pretty forgiving reader... with a few exceptions. Even if I dislike a book, it may be for the best. I love those, "Man, if this hack can get published, I can get published." moments. Great for the retail-wounded ego.
     
  9. Slippery
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    Slippery Contributing Member

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    Bwahahahaha!

    After reading Kas's post, I think maybe that when someone critiques your writing, saying, "You use too many descriptive words where you should only be using said. Take them out," you don't have to either take or leave the advice. Think instead, well, why did this person have that reaction? The result might end up being like the conclusion Kas came to: It's unreasonable to remove ALL the descriptive words, but there were a few too many.

    So, when a critic reviews your work, they might be half wrong, half right.
     
  10. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    My experience has been similar to that of the OP. I already know the technical aspects of writing--I know how to spell, I know how to construct sentences, I know how to tell a story--so when it comes to readers who are just readers, I receive few complaints. But readers who are writers notice all the little stylistic things that aren't so much wrong as "heavily frowned upon" by many other writers--things that are subjective (and which I usually used because I WANTED to use them).

    This is the main reason I don't post my work on writing forums for critique--I know I'll just get a bunch of comments about why I shouldn't use this speech tag or why I shouldn't use this adverb or why I should rewrite this sentence or whatnot when all I really want to know is how entertaining it is, what a reader thought of the characters and plot and such, not what they thought of my choice of words.

    Unfortunately, when a writer DOES like a story, they can more aptly say why; whereas I've found that with readers, even if they love a story, they'll often just say, "I don't know why, I just do." *sigh*

    I sometimes wonder, though, based on how little many non-writing readers react to things that writers commonly despise (things mentioned in the original post), how much are we writers beating ourselves over the head with things that probably don't matter that much...? Following "rules" and "guidelines" just because it's what other writers say we should do, not really what readers care about? I feel saddened sometimes to see people who should really enjoy the process of writing, agonizing over the choice of EVERY SINGLE LITTLE WORD, when a reader probably will never even notice or care about such a thing.

    But that's for another thread. To answer the OP, writers make better readers if you're looking for grammatical and style advice, but if you're just looking to entertain somebody, they often make really lousy readers.
     
  11. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Writers don't make better or worse readers. Just different ones.

    Yes, they poke more holes in the writing. This is because, in general, writers have the skills to say what they didn't like about a piece of writing, whereas readers can usually only say that they "didn't like it". The same for if they did like it.

    On the topic of rules and guidelines, it's not the "rules" that are the problem, it's knowing when to apply them. I would get bored fast, too, if I saw something like this:

    '"I hate cats," Michael said.
    "So do I," said Judy.
    "But you know what I hate more?" said Michael.
    "No, what?" said Judy.
    Repeat pattern ad nauseam.

    Yes, that is annoying.

    But that's not what people mean when they say "use said." If I had twenty lines of dialogue like that, I could get away with four "said"s, just to keep the reader from being confused about who is talking. No one is saying use it every line. And there's nothing wrong with actions in between. What they're trying to warn you against is using words like "chortled". More often than not, you're not chortling and talking at the same time. Or, as one author liked to write: ", Micheal ejaculated." Tell me "said" wouldn't work better there.

    But I'm not trying to defend every single rule you've ever heard. I'm just pointing out that it's not the "rule" at fault. It's the critiquer(/writer/reader) who doesn't properly explain how to use the rule, and where to apply it.
     
  12. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    Writers are the worst readers of their own work.

    This is why you have to separate yourself as the author during the revision process of that work, otherwise you will not know what is beneficial to the story and what is needless backpadding.

    How you are harshest critic of other written work, you must be ten times harsh on yourself, otherwise there will be no improvement: you will not know what to improve.
     
  13. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    You will be blinded by your own ego.
     
  14. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    No, but readers make better writers.
     
  15. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm wondering how this applies to the discussion at hand? Not to come down on you, but aren't we discussing "writers" reading the work of others?
     
  16. writing.writing.writing
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    writing.writing.writing New Member

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    sometimes i think they make better readers beacuse they can pick things out and just see things a lot of people can't
     

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