Challenge,  On Writing

Reading And Story Consumption

Today, While Resting, I Consumed Story…

Since I just pulled into town last night, I decided to mostly rest today.

So besides some naps, I read part of a Dean Koontz novel called The Silent Corner. It is the first book with a new continuing character. I think he’s got three or four in the series now and it is typical Koontz smooth writing and rich details.

And then Kris and I went to a movie, a fun one about a spy who dropped his girlfriend. Just a wonderful, fun spoof.

I seldom talk here about my reading or story consumption. But as any professional writer, I do it all the time. For example, on the trip down I listened to a bunch of those NBC murder case shows on the radio not only for the murder and real-life human character details, but the story.

And that’s all just in the last 24 or so hours. Consuming story is part of my passion and also part of my profession. If you are not reading much, or looking down your nose at movies or television, you are hurting your writing.

Read for pleasure. Then if the book held you or you didn’t understand how an author did something that worked for you, go back and study it. But always read for pleasure first. If you can’t read for pleasure or just go to a movie for the fun of it, then your readers will find no pleasure in your work either.

Now back to the Koontz novel.


  • Philip

    It stuns me whenever I hear writers say they’re too busy to read. For me, I’m busy with work and my kids, but I cut out TV to have time to write AND read (luckily we live in a binge-watch era, so I can catch up on the great shows every few months). Consuming story is not only fun, it refills the creative wells.

    I have to agree with you on Koontz, too, he writes crisp prose. It’s a great achievement that he writes fairly minimalist yet nails depth. I’d like to get started on his new thriller series he just launched.

    A similar writer is Ace Atkins. I’ve been plowing through his Quinn Colson thriller/noir series.

  • Janine

    I notice this type of snobbery quite a bit with some writers, and I had the displeasure of having at least one of those look at my manuscript years ago, made me feel inferior as a writer that it wasn’t written in a literary style. And I sometimes felt I wasn’t a real writer because a lot of my current story inspirations weren’t from books, but from other forms of storytelling, thanks to comparison books and query letters that all my friends seem to nail. Thankfully, that attitude is starting to fade away with the younger set, but there’s still an air of superiority that prose is better than other forms of storytelling.

    I write a lot of Young Adult and New Adult stuff, and just about every new book published that isn’t an issue book in that demographic has some type of romance playing a important part of the story, and personally, I think it’s a bit much. But I notice that there are plenty of stories that are not books featuring similar aged protagonists that have little to no romance, which is refreshing for me and a lot of others that are looking for a romance free storyline, and I believe there’s a base of readers looking for just that in books. Just one of many examples of book writers missing out by ignoring other forms of storytelling.

    Don’t forget about other forms of storytelling as well, like video games or watching/listening to a ball game. There’s a reason why many consider Vin Scully to be a great storyteller in general. Shame he’s not doing games anymore.

    • dwsmith

      Janine, good points and the writers who can’t get past the aspect that they think writing is “work” and that only reading has value are soon lost to any kind of real audience. Very, very few readers buy a book because they want to work. Most buy a book for the story and to be entertained.

      Some of the best fiction and story being produced in this modern world is on television these days. But the old parental attitude of television is a vast wasteland just sort of holds on for so many.

      In the information flow workshop, we use movies in the assignments to illustrate aspects of great forms of information flow. Almost impossible to see in prose when a great writer does it, but clear as a bell after a few times through in a movie, and easy to study so you can move it to your writing.

      And I learn a ton from the background stories of the contestants in two different shows. The Voice and American Ninja Warriors. I watch those shows and it makes me realize just how really good writers have it and how we just don’t really work very hard. Fiction writers, as a class today are whimps compared to even the old pulp writers, let anyone anyone who makes it to those two shows.

      Again, I just marvel at the fact that in modern fiction writing, to get better, the common knowledge is to write less and slower and rest all the time because of the stress of writing. (Head-shaking silliness)

      • Philip

        The Voice also shows you the types of “characters” audiences respond to. You see the contestant backstories and personalities that resonate.

      • Mike

        I’d recommend the Information Flow workshop highly. The assignments have been eye-opening so far and showed me that, despite constantly reading, watching TV and movies, you REALLY start to soak in the techniques upon a second, third, fourth viewing when you know what you’re looking for.

        • dwsmith

          Mike, yup, we focused your study with the assignments. Some movies are really strong in certain areas and worth watching a second time to study one thing or another. Die Hard, of course, is one of the best examples to study for a number of areas. Kris and I figured the best way to really show the techniques of information flow in areas of story was to use movies. It really is eye-opening when you see it. And your creative voice takes it right into your stories once you see it.

  • Leah cutter

    I actually have a monthly reminder on my calendar that asks if I’m reading for pleasure. I get so busy sometimes that I forget. Despite how I love to read. I rarely watch TV. Don’t own one. I do watch shows on Hulu as well as DVDs. There just aren’t enough hours in the day…

  • Phillip McCollum

    I picked up a habit of reading widely and often after I finished a biography by Louis L’Amour a few months ago. He would read whatever he could get his hands on and just soak it all in.

    Just last week, I finished a fantastic travel book by Paul Theroux who has an amazing way of placing the reader in different parts of the world (and different eras!). Then I picked up some fantastic story ideas from an issue of Military History Quarterly. And then there were wonderful character-centric articles in Sports Illustrated that have helped me tap into what drives certain people to behave the way they do. Next up are four Stephen King novellas that I can’t wait to catch up on and hopefully be pulled into.

    I LOVE that you preach that it’s okay to enjoy reading again. ?

  • J.M. Ney-Grimm

    I can’t imagine not reading for pleasure. It’s been a part of my life nearly from infancy (when my parents read to me every day) on through childhood (when I read to myself every day), and on through to the present. Close to six decades of reading. A day with no reading in it…doesn’t happen very often for me. I read the way I eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 😀

  • Linda Jordan

    I love watching movies and TV made from books and seeing how they changed the story and trying to figure out why. Chewing on the Longmire series again, now that I’ve read some of the books. I heard the novel writer speak and he was fascinated and loved how they changed his stories, and why. He spent a lot of time on the set and viewed it as part of his education. I just love the process of looking at how stories change when they shift to different mediums.

  • allynh

    As per our discussion a few weeks ago about novelizing a Castle episode, I found the original pilot and the shooting script. I need to watch the first episode a few times, read the scripts, watch the episode, then I may be able to answer my earlier question. HA!