Every time I do a book signing or speak at a conference, there is always one question that is asked. What advice do you have for a beginning writer? This is a hard question to answer in a short time. There are so many rules and things that beginning writers need to know. However, I always fall back on one item when asked this question.
Read, read, read.
Read everything you can get your hands on. I mean it. Everything. This serves several purposes. It helps you identify good writing from bad. It helps you learn sentence structure (and we all continually need to learn that). It helps you learn cadence. And it helps you increase your vocabulary. There are lots of other things it does too, but I think you get the picture.
I do have to confess one thing though. I was always told, by experienced authors giving the same advice, to read tons of stuff in the genre that you write. My confession is this… I almost never read anything in my own genre. When I do read mysteries, I tend to read it more as to picking it apart and finding fault with the work. Maybe it’s just me but I read everything I can get my hands on in other genres but not my own. I know its going against all of the advice I received but there you have it.
I especially like to read classical literature. Not that I really enjoy it, although I sometimes do. But it allows me to see how other people in other centuries wrote, but together sentences, created suspense, etc. The main caveat with reading older classics is that you have to realize that back when these were written the people didn’t move at the pace we do today. They didn’t have so many different things tugging at our attentions like we do today. They could actually take the time to explore parts of character interaction that would be quickly edited out by today’s standards. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I’m unsure since I’ve only grown up in today’s society. I tend to skip exposition in the classics due to the total boringness of how much detail they go into. However, when I’m feeling especially energetic and patient, I will actually analysis how they do it.
With all of that being said, here are some of the best classics that I’ve read recently. (I miss my book groups in Boise, Id. They made me read one classic a month, one mystery a month, and one newer book a month.) These are the classics that I’ve studied… The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne, The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, Silas Marner by George Elliot, anything by Edgar Allen Poe, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, anything by Alexandre Dumas, Dracula by Bram Stoker, and many more. But these will get you started.
I won’t actually do a book review of the above other than to say I’ve read all of them and learned from all of them. So can you.
Angela Abderhalden is the author of the Mel Addison Mystery Series and is an Acquiring Editor for Seventh Wave Books, LLC.