Competing in (and winning!) 2007′s National Novel Writing Month made me realize something: I really need to read more novels. It’s pathetic how few novels I’ve read recently. I don’t remember reading even one in the past year. And when I was writing my own novel, I realized what a huge problem that is. See, I read blogs and news stories all the time, and I am learning all sorts of things, but I’m not learning literary style.
Writing a novel has a large problem-solving component to it. How do I write several pages of dialog without it getting repetitive? (Many lines of “He said”, “She said” gets very repetitive.) How should I write in a character’s thoughts? (Quotes, italics, what?) What’s another way of indicating a state of inaction has ceased besides using the word “finally”? There are all sorts of tricks to the trade of novel-writing, and these things simply don’t stick with you if you haven’t read a novel recently. They’re style issues; if they’re done well, you don’t notice them. So I need to go back through and read some novels with a critical eye towards how they handle all of the problems I had during the writing of my novel. I will do this before I go through and edit my novel.
So I’ve been thinking, what kinds of books do I want to glean stylistic inspiration from? That’s an easy question to answer: literary masterpieces! You know, the classics in the field that students are typically assigned to read in high school and in college. I read a fair number of them going through school, but there are a lot more out there that I haven’t read (e.g. The Catcher in the Rye). I think it’ll do good for my writing style. Yes, my story is nominally a fantasy/sci-fi hybrid, and if I was having thematic issues, I would read some novels of those genres as a refresher. But since I’m having style issues, I’ll stick to the literary masterpieces.
The sad thing is, it wasn’t always this way. All the way up through high school I was a voracious reader. It wasn’t uncommon for me to read more than one book per week. I had a long bus ride to my magnet school and reading on the bus was my major way to pass the time (that, and Game Boy). But when I entered college, all of that changed, as it did for all of my friends I’ve asked about it. The free time one has available for reading simply vanishes in college. Now that I’m done, and that I’m done with the rush of finishing 50,000 words in one month, I have time to read more novels again. I’ll put that down as my next project. I’ll thoroughly enjoy it.