Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere

Reading as a writer … for fun? #amreading #amwriting #amrevising

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I indulged in a bit of reading for fun this week, since I figured out what scenes to submit for my assignment.

Okay, fine. I was procrastinating on my homework. There. Happy?

I haven’t read much of anything for a while, with the revisions and homework and all. Oh, and that pesky full-time job. And the garden.

With the upcoming release of Harry Dresden’s new adventure, Peace Talks, I decided to reread the last book in the series to refresh my memory, since it’s been, oh, years since Skin Game came out. Then I had to reread the book that introduced Mouse because hey, it’s Mouse.

After reconnecting with Harry, I was ready for more snarky urban fantasy, or at least snarky mysteries with a paranormal angle. And what luck! Another of my favorite urban fantasy authors just released a new book (some snark included). Not only that, but I ran across a book from a fellow member of Sisters in Crime that sounded like a nice break from serious. And writing.

I have now read 4 books (Skin Game (Dresden), Blood Rites (Harry again), Ann Charles’ first Deadwood book Nearly Departed in Deadwood, and Patricia Briggs’ latest Mercy Thompson book, Smoke Bitten) in the span of three weeks (one of which took me all of a day and a half to read), when I haven’t read much of anything for months.

Reunions with old friends (Harry and Mercy) are great, and meeting new ones (Violet Parker, with her purple cowboy boots) is fun, but you know you are a real writer when IT happens.

Yes, the infamous “Aha! I see what you did there” moment when you read a scene and you can “see” the structure of the scene and how it lures the reader on.

Here’s a “for instance”: In Nearly Departed in Deadwood, Violet has 10-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. She becomes friends with a codger who has a gun named Bessie and a total lack of subtlety, meets the tall dark handsome sexy guy next door to the office (sparks there), and starts dating the tall blond handsome rich guy whose family owns the jewelry store in town. So, sparks between dark sexy and Vi (who resists her attraction to him, yet he obviously likes her), but she dates blond handsome (she likes him more than dark sexy, or so she tells herself).

What’s more fun for readers than the tension between a girl and the guy she is determined not to be attracted to? Oh, and toss in the guy who is a chick magnet and rich. So, what does the author do? She includes a scene in which the codger and dark sexy guy are with Violet at the ER (her daughter broke her arm). Dark sexy is being the good friend, keeping Vi calm and comforting her like any sexy guy would (you know, holding her close), when blond handsome shows up.

Boom! The classic setup for tension with love interests. And the guys, of course, have been trying to win her affection in their own ways. Vi is determined not to fall for dark sexy (he’s been teasing her, all innocent-like, since they met), so she greets blond handsome like a lonely girl greets her boyfriend after he’s been gone for a week.

I find myself noticing all these little things now, the rising tension between characters and in scenes, the scene “cliff-hangers” that draw the reader on, and especially the fresh metaphors and descriptions (how the hell do they come up with those?). The first time I noticed the craft behind the story was when I read Terry Goodkind’s Wizard’s First Rule, his debut novel, and I couldn’t put it down. I paid attention to what he did that compelled me to read on.

Questions. Every chapter didn’t have a cliff-hanger, per se, but each had some question I just had to find the answer to. Same with the Dresden books, though those are more “how is he going to get out of this?”

Part of me misses that reader ignorance: the point of reading the story is to escape and live in another place and time for a bit without caring about anything except what happens to the characters–find and stop the bad guy or get the prize. I can’t do that anymore without noticing things with a writer’s eye. The setup, the character arcs, the tension, the description, the way other authors convey emotion.

Does it ruin a story for me? Only if the author does a middling or lousy job of keeping my interest (and then I analyze why it doesn’t keep me reading). When I notice these things, I try to take mental notes so I can improve my own writing. After hearing Allen Eskens talk about the craft and how he approaches a story, I notice that now in his books and others.

Reading like a writer means missing a little of that magic that readers search for in a good book, the escape where the real world goes away for a while. But reading like a writer makes me appreciate more the bits and pieces of what creates that magic to begin with.

Happy Summer Solstice! Just think, from this point on (until the winter solstice), the days will be getting shorter. Or, don’t think about it. Yeah, probably better for the psyche if we just enjoy now and express surprise later when it’s dark before 8p again.

Write on!

Zoey sleeping on chair

Author: Julie Holmes, author

A fiction writer since elementary school (many years ago), and NaNoWriMo annual participant for over a decade, I have been published in small press magazines such as "Fighting Chance" and "The Galactic Citizen". I write adult mystery with a touch of romance, mystery with extrasensory elements, contemporary fantasy, and epic fantasy, and I'm represented by the fabulous Cynthia Zigmund of Second City Publishing Services. My debut novel, "Murder in Plane Sight", has been released by Camel Press (an imprint of Coffeetown Press/Epicenter Press). In real life, I am a technical writer and empty-nester with a wonderful hubby, one cat (what writer doesn't have cats??), two dogs, six chickens, and more chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits than any garden should have to deal with. My garden, our hobby farm, and Nature's annual seasons are some of my muses.

21 thoughts on “Reading as a writer … for fun? #amreading #amwriting #amrevising

  1. I’m glad you took some time to read, Julie. I think reading as a writer is a very important part of a writer’s development. For myself, anyway, I get such good ideas from the way other writers do what they do – it’s inspirational. It’s great to be able to think, ‘Oh, I see why you did that!’ when I see the way other authors present characters, link scenes, and so on.

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  2. Reading is ALWAYS good for you, whether you write or not. (That’s my story, an’ I’m stickin’ to it.) But I totally get what you mean about noticing things about the skillful (or non-skillful) way each writer goes about telling their tale. I think we absorb some of this even without trying, or we wouldn’t even know where to begin our own work. But reading a lot definitely teaches us things we want to do–or NEVER do–in our own work.

    I’m just wrapping up White Night, #10 in the Dresden Files. I fully intend to finish the first 15 books before I start on #16, especially given how complicated the plots continue to be as the series has grown. PLUS, I’m taking notes of all the wonderfully snarky and often hilarious lines Dresden mutters in this series. I always knew it, of course, and laughed at each of them, but this time around, I’m realizing just how blinkin’ brilliant some of them are.

    I saw that Briggs had a new book out, and I’ll probably have to get it. I read all of that series over time. But Kim Harrison also (after a six-year absence, coincidentally) has a new Hollows book out, too, and I enjoyed that one even more. Loved the relationships in the books, and was very fond of Trent. I’m curious as to where this one could be going, since I’d thought the books ended on a pretty good note. And wait. There’s more! I was always a big Ilona Andrews fan (still am), and I might be hallucinating, but I believe there’s a new Kate Daniels book on the way. Kate & Curran were also faves of mine. I want to see if these writers still have the magic touch with these old familiar characters. Hope so!

    SO much good reading material out there, with more coming every day. How are we ever to reduce our TBR piles??? It drives me crazy knowing there will always be books I can’t get to!

    And I love the pic! I need to email you some pics of my boys, Kell and Rhy. Rhy, especially, looks like your guy. Certainly they could have all three come from the same litter. But not my black & white fellow, Harry (Blackstone Copperfield Dresden) nor his calico sister, Murph. 😀

    Have a great weekend, Julie! 🙂 ❤

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    • Kim Harrison has a new Hollows book out? With Rachel and Trent? I thought she closed that series off; yes, the last book in the series did a decent job of that. Ilona Andrews? Haven’t read any of hers. I go through an urban fantasy/paranormal binge whenever Butcher or Briggs comes out with a new book. I used to read Laurell K Hamilton (both series), but lost interest in Anita Blake (and Merry Gentry) somewhere around Obsidian Butterfly.

      You’re keeping Dresden snark notes? How many notebooks have you filled so far? LOL! Yes, some of them are brilliant. The one that comes to mind from Blood Rites is: I guess my boots were made for walking, because … something along the lines of slipping while running to escape the fire demons. Or one of my faves (from the same book): The building was burning, and it wasn’t my fault. Knowing Dresden, that says something!

      And you have cats named after Harry and Murph? I knew you were a fan, but wow! You’ll have to post pics 😀 I’m missing Mae’s Raven, too.

      Have a wonderful weekend, Marcia! ❤ Dresdenphiles, forever! 😀

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      • I read some Hamilton books early on, but I didn’t enjoy them enough to pursue them. They just weren’t my thing. Ilona Andrews is marvelous. I know you would like the Kate Daniels books. Kate and Curran (the beast lord) are amazing, and the series is set in Atlanta, at a time when magic and tech are at odds. When the tech works, cars drive, electricity runs, things we are familiar with are useful. When it goes down and the magic comes up, fey lanterns light the streets, and everything changes. It’s a very good series, and Kate & Curran are super fun.

        YES!! Rachel and Trent (a character I enjoyed from the very first book) are back! I had no idea she’d be going back to that, and I’ve got it on my Kindle already. It’s called American Demon. The Briggs book is called Smoke Bitten and came out in March, I think, though I just found out a couple of days ago. It’s already on my Kindle, and you might already have it. You should definitely add Ilona Andrews to your Authors To Check Out List. Start with the Kate Daniels series, Book 1, Magic Bites.

        My recommendations of the day.

        And yes, Harry and Murphy are our two oldest cats (six, I think), and Kell & Rhy are coming up on three or so. I’m not on FB anymore, after getting spammed/hacked/driven crazy by it, so I don’t have any really good place to post pics, but I’d be glad to email you some, except I don’t think I have your email address. I’ll contact you with mine through here, and then I’ll share some with you.

        BTW, in addition to our four cats, we are keeping my daughter’s two until we can find a way to get them to Denver. They moved out there last summer, and we were planning to fly them out at Christmas, and discovered we couldn’t do that on the airlines we were traveling on. You can’t have a carry-on animal case over 8″ tall. Really? I guess you care only allowed to gravel with hamsters or snakes. So we were going to go back this spring with them, and then, whammo. Lockdown. So for now, we have SIX cats living with us, and enough hairballs floating around to stuff a mattress with! 😀

        Life is full of surprises. 😉

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      • I read Smoke Bitten (took all of a day and a half)–it’s great! I’ll put Magic Bites on my list, sounds like fun! You are on Twitter, right? I’ll DM my email addy to you there 😀 I can always look at more cat pics! And hairballs? It seems no matter how many times I brush Zoey, every time I pet her I get more hair all over. And waiting with great anticipation for Peace Talks!

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      • Urk. Please ignore any typos! Sorry! 😯

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  3. You know, I’ve never read as a writer. I can see why you’d prefer, maybe, that you hadn’t started doing that. Take care. Bye till next time.

    Neil Scheinin

    Liked by 2 people

    • If you are a writer, it’s really interesting to see how other writers do things, but yes, there are times when I wish I could just read without noticing the reason behind a particular scene.

      Thanks for stopping by, Neil! Have a great weekend!

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  4. I actually like reading as a writer because when I see something done well, I know how doggone hard it was to do.

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  5. I’m glad you got to enjoy some reading, Julie:) When I start a book I’m looking for how an author wrote it and the style. What I find is if an author is good I forget all that and just enjoy the read, lost in in the story. If its not done well I may stop reading quckily and move on. Hope you have a great week!

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    • Agreed! I do forget to pay attention as a writer when I’m enjoying a story, but when I hit a spot done particularly well or a metaphor that is quite creative, my writing brain makes a mental note (where it puts the note, I’m not always certain 🙂 )

      Have a great week, Denise!

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  6. Look how snuggly Zoey is. One of my daughters just said, “Oooh, kitty.” That’s so fun that you’re noticing the style of the writing. That is why we’re told to read in the genre we write, so we clue in to these things. (Which is why I, somewhat embarrassed, mingle with the teenagers in the YA section. They’re probably like, Who you kidding, Grandma?) Anyway, I take notes of the different descriptions for expressions and body language frequently. Even my daughter, when I’m reading books out loud to them and come across some obscure-seeming object, has said, “That’s going to come back in later.” 🙂 It’s fun.

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    • Oooh, taking notes is a great idea (with my memory these days, writing stuff down is more reliable 😀 ) And it seems I can tell when the author mentions something in particular that it will show up later. Of course, if it doesn’t, unless it was something mundane, I’ll wonder why the author mentioned it in the first place.

      Have a wonderful week, Betsy!

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      • My girls are probably annoyed that I’ll stop reading on occasion and interject a critique or observation. It may be that they’re learning things, for future reference, or they might be annoyed. Sometimes I teach them the importance of a good editor when I point out typos, even in these books made into movies!

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  7. I love reading, and for the most part, can turn off the writer part of my brain to bask in the story. Certain things do jump out at me but for the most part I’m just along for the ride. Glad you enjoyed your reading break, Julie!

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    • I used to read a lot more, but I’ve been focusing on writing so much lately I haven’t done a whole lot of reading, but I do listen to audiobooks when I run. It’s been nice to do a bit of reading lately; Marcia introduced me to a new series by Ilona Andrews, so I’m getting sucked into that one. The Dresden books are great for pure enjoyment (though I still marvel at the writerly stuff).

      Have a wonderful week, Mae!

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  8. I haven’t read any of the Dresden series yet, Julie. I’m waiting for the series to wrap up before I begin – because waiting makes me crazy. 🙂 And I know what you mean about missing the oblivion of reading without analyzing technique. I know a book is amazing when I’m swept into a story and don’t notice the writing. Happy Reading!

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    • Oh, man. You have to at least read Storm Front (book 1). And I don’t know if the series will ever end. Dresden gets into enough dicey situations to keep the fun going for a while, though I imagine it’s tougher to keep raising the threat level. Butcher is great at it, though.

      Have a wonderful week, Diana!

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      • I know. I know. I just can’t handle reading an incomplete series. I’ve been burned by some great authors (George RR Martin and Patrick Rothfuss to name a couple). I’m waiting for some Brandon Sanderson series to finish up too.

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