A Good Writer Must First be a Good Reader

I have to admit this post resulted because of  a discussion in one of my LinkedIn groups. One of the members of the groups posted a link to an article that states there are now more writers than readers and asked what members of the group thought. Certainly it brought up many comments, especially when one writer in the group claimed she writes fiction but doesn’t read anything but non-fiction. Her reasoning behind it? She is afraid if she reads fiction she will be open to a lawsuit for plagiarism!

After going back and forth with the writer who thinks she can write fiction while only reading non-fiction this question comes to mind: what makes her think she can plagiarise someone else’s work by reading fiction? After all, there are only so many plots available, and if you read any book on the market you will find similarities among them all. The key is being able to take a story others have told and put a new twist to it. You can only accomplish that if you read what the others have already written and draw from their experience.

The thing I find truly amazing about this writer is she said she writes Science Fiction. How in the world can you create plot and characterization for sci-fi by reading only non-fiction? You surely cannot take current events or even historical events and bring them into play in either science fiction or fantasy. While writers have developed plots for mystery, suspense, horror and even romance by using real life events, I have yet to hear of any science fiction books being developed in that way. Even the masters including Stephen King tell writers they must read, read and read some more.

Another factor this writer fails to understand is you cannot discover what is selling in the market by simply reading the synopsis’ on the books on the New York Best Sellers’ List–you have to read the books! It is also essential to read books in your genre. I am presently working on a romance novel and a short story that probably falls into the adult fiction genre. While I am currently reading most mystery and suspense, I have read enough romance to know what the masters are doing–I have read over 30 books by Danielle Steel and several by other popular romance authors including Nora Roberts.

My thoughts were if anyone is so worried about plagiarism they should not be a writer, but naturally the writer disagrees. She truly believes her research is enough to allow her to write genre fiction without reading it. Several of us tried to explain to her you cannot copyright ideas and that every book on the market begins from one central plot since there are more books than there are plot ideas.

Her next excuse? She doesn’t have time to read fiction! She had previously stated that she did watch science fiction on television, so I told her if she has time to watch television she has time to read–turn off the television like I do. I am lucky if I watch two hours of television per week; I would rather read a good book. I also told her I make it a point to read for one to two hours before I go to sleep for the night.

Perhaps we shall see what happens, but the bottom line is a good writer must first be a good reader, and he or she MUST read books and stories in their genre. If you write romance, you must read romance. That doesn’t mean you cannot read other types of fiction as well, but you certainly have to read in your genre if you expect to understand what is selling in the market. She tells us we will find out next year when she is a published writer: I say we shall see if that really happens given her comments and the way she is approaching her craft.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Carl Vasquez
    Jul 13, 2011 @ 21:26:08

    You have a very nice writing style, I enjoyed your post.

    I would agree with you in saying that I believe it’s essential for any writer to enhance their craft by reading material that directly relates to their field.

    I’ve had many complications in the past, whereas I would attempt to write something on a subject with only little or generalized knowledge of the topic. This made the reading a complete bore because I lacked the necessary ‘specific’ information that the readers wanted.


    • Brenda Coxe
      Jul 13, 2011 @ 22:07:39

      I know one writer who writes science fiction and thinks she can write good books by reading non-fiction. I have not read any of her books and won’t since I don’t read science fiction, but I find it difficult to believe you can do any world-building without reading in that genre.


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