1. Sean2112bd
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    Sean2112bd Member

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    It's official: Reading makes you a better writer

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Sean2112bd, Feb 18, 2011.

    I just finished "The Stand" by Stephen King. I read it in one week and a half...all 1,135 pages, and I got to say it was great. :) It's the first book I've read by him and I'm itchin' to read more of his stuff.

    Anyway, after reading it I noticed certain changes in my writing after studying his writing style. Now, granted I'm a novice writer and I'm still trudging the arduous road to "writerdome", if such a thing exists :rolleyes:, but I learned something about effective storytelling and I thought I might share even though I may not be the most qualified.

    1. Details: One of the things that struck me was the amount of detail he puts into certain objects. For example, he wouldn't just say "the notebook", instead he would say "the ring bider notebook with the dogeared pages and the gold embroidery on the front", or something like that. I know this kind of goes with the no-brainer advice, "show, don't tell", but I noticed that he does it in a way that makes you more "pulled in", especially when he uses similies like this: "He could feel the pores of his body open like a million mouths and slurp the water in like a sponge." I was like woah that's good.

    2. Flashbacks and Voice: There were a lot of flashbacks in the book, kind of like "LOST" if you any of you guys have seen the show. I figured out that for an effective flashback to work it needs to relate to a certain object the character has or sees, or a certain situation the character is in. I know that seems obvious (at least to those who are experienced), but those flashbacks allow for the reader to gain sympathy for the character which is why it is so effective.

    I also want to add that he sometimes uses passive voice when it is appropriate which is something I didn't know you could do. I read that you should always write in active voice and that words like "had been" or "was being" should be taken out, but he did use it sometimes in "The Stand". So, now I know that I should write in active voice, but I don't have to omit the passive voice completely.

    3. Learning new words: This is obvious with any book. I learned the word "pissant"

    pissĀ·ant also piss-ant (psnt) Slang
    n.
    1. One that is insignificant.
    2. Obsolete An ant.

    The word itself sounds just like the definition, which is why I like it.

    So yeah, that's all I wanted to say and I probably said a bunch of stuff that you guys might know already, but I had to say it anyway. I guess I'm just a little enamored by King's writing, kind of like the first time I listened to the Dark Side of the Moon album by Pink Floyd and got a musical epiphany:cool:...no I was not on drugs:p
     
  2. Dandroid
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    Dandroid Senior Member

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    it's funny...and i mean this with no offence and am merely trying to demonstrate how subjective experience can be...but...all the flourishes you described would qualify as overwrought and generally bad writing from my perspective...
     
  3. Sean2112bd
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    Sean2112bd Member

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    Well, I guess you'll have to read "The Stand" then to understand what I'm saying lol Or perhaps that means my writing has gotten worse haha

    Idk, when I read his book I was just amazed at how good it was. It was more likely due to the characters. The characters are what really made that book great. I think strong characters are what make a book successful. It's like Shakespeare's plays where he has a bunch of characters with their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Hamlet's ambivalence, Othello's jealousy, etc.
     
  4. Dandroid
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    Dandroid Senior Member

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    that would make a lot more sense to me...
     
  5. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Seems like you learned quite a bit. Its not so much as how obvious it is to everyone else, its that it finally clicks with you.

    Though you should becareful about the details part. Not to be harsh on the examples, as they were probably done with little thought, but something with so much could be off putting.

    You got to keep in mind that sometimes 'the notebook' is all you really need. If you were to add 'The notebook's cover was crammed with stickers of unicorns, fairies, and rainbows' then it should suggest something about the owner of the notebook. Whether its a little girl or if its owned by a 6 foot black man who is buff as hell.

    Well wait... strike that. Well sometimes lots of detail can be a bad thing...

    OK im going to shut up. I'm not entirely sure if I know what I am talking about. So... yeah.

    But hey! Good for you on learning something while enjoying a book. :D
     
  6. Sean2112bd
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    Sean2112bd Member

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    Lol haha

    Well, the reason I said notebook was because in the story one of the character's has one that's important to him, but I didn't want to give away too much of the story away for those who haven't read it yet.

    I guess what I meant to say was that writing details about a certain thing or place can help the reader visualize the objects better and become more engaged in the story, but if the thing or place does not relate to an important emotional event and/or character in some way, then don't do it.

    Like in the book, there was a guy who was stuck in prison for over a week I think, and it reminded him of a caged bunny he neglected. He described the bloody paws of the bunny trying to free itself and compared it with the situation he was in. In this case, it's not enough just to say " he was stuck in prison and he felt sick", it has no emotional impact for the reader to feel sympathy. He was like the innocent bunny he neglected. It carries a better image in the reader's head.

    So, I guess the trick is figuring out when to add details, so it all ends up becoming about timing. This is currently what I'm working on, when to add details to something and when to just say it like it is.
     
  7. zilly
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    zilly Senior Member

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    I don't think many are on the side to argue that reading makes you a worse writer. However, I don't think anything, writing included, definitively makes someone a better writer.

    Also, Stephen King will likely have more books published than I will ever sell in copies, but I still think he's the definition of a mediocre writer. That being said, his ability to write at that pace boggles my mind. And, I don't have much room to criticize, but...
     
  8. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah I think you should ignore the majority of my post. I think I may have slightly misunderstood or didn't fully understand what you were talking about. I guess what I was worried was that you would go into such details about everything(yeah I know, I shouldn't assume such things) where maybe just a notebook would have been just fine.

    Make sense? I hope so because I'm in that kind of mood where I am not sure I know what I am talking about. :p


    But yeah. Congratulations on what you have learned. :)


    Also The Stand is a favorite of mine. :D
     
  9. Show
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    Stephen King is an established writer who could get away with just about anything. Careful with imitating him. If his story has an effect on you, that's good. But the detail you described seems unnecessary to me.

    I think writing is improved by finding your own style/voice. I think reading plays a part in this but I don't think reading itself makes you a "better" writer. But I am glad that King has helped you. ;)
     
  10. ChicagoDave
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    ChicagoDave Member

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    If you liked the Stand, try The Dark Tower series.

    But, also read different writers with different styles, as others have pointed out. Maybe a dose of Hemingway is what you need now.
     
  11. Halcyon
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    Halcyon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Completely agree with the basic premise of your post, reading is an invaluable tool for a writer, and The Stand is one of the true classics of modern fiction, certainly the greatest of King's achievements in my humble opinion.

    As for The Dark Side Of The Moon, for a real epiphany try listening to it while watching The Wizard Of Oz at the same time, ensuring that you start both simultaneously. It has long been rumoured in music circles that Roger Waters wrote the album as an alternative soundtrack for the movie. Almost certainly nonsense, but there are a few coincidental moments that make you wonder...
     
  12. Terry D
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    Terry D Active Member

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    You will never be an accomplished writer if you are not an avid reader. Trying to write well without reading -- a lot and widely -- would be like trying to play music without listening to it.

    King does get away with much that would doom a story for an unknown writer, but he's earned the right to experiment based on his body of work. If you want to see what he was like as a writer when he first started out get a copy of The Bachman Books, a collection of four short novels he published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. One of those books, The Long Walk was written when he was just 18. Then read Carrie, his first published book. His earliest works were much more spare than those written after he became a household name.

    He has written more than 40 novels and short story collections, sold hundreds of millions of copies, and -- most importantly -- people crave his work. If that makes him mediocre then, please God, make me mediocre!
     
  13. Sean2112bd
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    Sean2112bd Member

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    haha I saw that. Very trippy.
     
  14. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    me too lol

    Reading makes me a better writer because it inspires plot twists, changes and allows me to turn round and say with confidence this can work and I want to do this with my story.
     
  15. Show
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    I get the former from everyday life and thinking. The latter might be a valid point but reaffirming what you want to do seems to make it a mere tool.

    Reading itself has done little to make me a better writer. Reading is a tool, among many. I can only go with what has proven to be effective with me, not what has worked with others.
     
  16. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's more than that its the confidence to turn round and say actually I KNOW this works best because I have seen it done elsewhere and it works.
     
  17. guamyankee
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    guamyankee Contributing Member

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    I stopped reading Stephen King after Gerald's Game. He used to be a great writer, now he's like an old washed up athlete who doesn't know when to step down.
     
  18. Show
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    So it's affirmation, which is fine.
     
  19. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is true. Stephen King has written A LOT of crap, but his good stuff overshadows the bad stuff enough that the publishers give him free reign. And even if they stopped publishing his work, King has already made enough money that he, his kids, and his grandkids are set for life.

    The Stand is a good book, but it is overly long.
     
  20. Silver_Dragon
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    Silver_Dragon Senior Member

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    Agreed. I think being an avid reader has helped my writing greatly. It's not that I need to read in order to get ideas for my books, but as far as the actual storytelling goes (in terms of plotting, pacing, etc.), I find seeing what other writers have done is really helpful.
     
  21. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    I would have to agree a little bit that reading helps you identify the machanics of writing a story. I'm reading the boook "Abduction!" which is a cool book to read, written by Peg Kehret (I think that's the author's name), and it looks like the pace of the book is somewhat slow and average. I can relate to some of these problems in my story now.
     
  22. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    that is not 'passive voice' at all... just two forms of past tense...

    active:
    the boy finds a loaf of bread...
    a dog ate my homework...

    passive:

    a loaf of bread is found by the boy...
    my homework was eaten by a dog...

    btw, sean, 'the stand' is the only good thing king ever wrote, imo [if he did write it, which i find hard to believe, considering the fact that everything else with his name on it doesn't come close to that in quality or style/voice]... it's a classic good/evil allegory told with a cast of intriguing characters all pulled together masterfully, to play out the modernday morality tale...

    so, if you hope to find his other stuff as satisfying as your first taste of the schlock/shockmeister's ouput [?], i fear you will be sadly disappointed...
     
  23. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    I think I know what he means by passive voice. Although some of the sentences in a story is not passive, such as "The clouds was dark," it still may kill a story, even though that sentence is not passive. In a sense, it is, because we want to know what or who made the clouds dark. If the clouds became dark on its own, we would probably write it like this: The clouds darken. I think I understand such words, like "had," "was," "were," and "felt," may sometimes be uncessary, thus, passive writing can kill a novel, although they are not passive words.
     
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  24. Terry D
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    Terry D Active Member

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    You obviously haven't read much King. While his style has matured over the years it has done so consitantly, and his voice has been as regular as a metronome. Does it qualify as great literature? There's no one I've read on this forum who appears qualified to answer that. Some of his stuff has been very bad, in my opinion, but there are millions of people who are willing to pay for it. Commercial fiction is for entertainment, and by any measurement you care to use Stephen King is the most successful author of all time.

    For another 'writer' to insinuate that he didn't write a book which carries his name is churlish. In my opinion.
     
  25. guamyankee
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    guamyankee Contributing Member

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    Agreed, Terry D. And to add to that thought, there are ALOT of excellent Stephen King novels, besides The Stand. Here are the King books I've read that I enjoyed:

    Salem's Lot, The Shining, Night Shift, The Stand, The Dead Zone, The first 4 Dark Tower books, Different Seasons, Pet Cemetery, The Talisman, Skeleton Crew, The Bachman Books, Misery, Desperation, Dreamcatcher

    I also liked his non-fiction book, On Writing.

    I can count on one hand the King books I've read and didn't enjoy. I don't read his new stuff, I'm kind of burnt out on his style after reading so much of it.
     

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