Monday, April 9, 2012

How Reading Cliched Books Can Maybe Be Okay...And Good For You...

A few days ago, I posted a blog asking "How Does Reading Affect Your Writing". The implied thrust of the post and its comments, of course, centered on how reading positively impacts our writing, how do we seek out reading that has a positive impact on our writing, and the type of reading we avoid while engaged in a writing project, for various reasons.

However, Alan Oathout made the following comment that dovetailed well into my next post: 

One other side-note: Sometimes when I realize that the book I'm reading is *not* well-written, I'll deliberately keep going with it. I just let my inner editor loose. I stop reading for enjoyment, and start reading as if I've been hired to do a free-lance editing job on the work. By doing this, I often learn something I can apply to my own writing. 

I think Alan was possibly talking about a book being "not well written" on a craft level, but this works when it comes to story, also.  For example - I blogged not too long ago about reviewing books on regular basis, again, for various reasons.  Anyway, implicit with that decision is the truth that, until summer, I won't have the time to be as choosey as I'd like to be with my reading, in order to keep up with my reviewing schedule.

But, I realized while reading a book for review not too long ago, that's not a bad thing.  Because I recognized a story that - if things had turned out differently - I would've written myself.

And it provided lots of thought about my development as a writer; thought I wouldn't otherwise have had if I'd just read books of strictly my own preference.

Now, to clarify - the book boasted very tight prose.  Very well written, in that aspect, completely living up to my standards in that regard.  However, the story was solidly placed in a pretty classic - some folks may even say overused - horror trope.  Again - it's pretty clear from the novel this was the intent.  So this isn't a slam against the book in any way.

But it took me aback, because in overall tone, plot development, even character types...I'd almost written this same exact novel, two years ago.   And to be honest - though I can't find much fault with the book in question as a reviewer - as a writer, I'm glad I never wrote that story.  Not because it's a bad one, or that I'd be embarrassed I wrote it...

But seeing a story like that in its final format, so close to the one I never finished, made me realize maybe that story wasn't the kind I was meant to write. Or even wanted to write, in the long run. 
It sounds weird, I know.  And this book in question is a quality book I'd recommend to anyone.  But seeing the close similarities between this trope and the kind of story I almost finished was an eye-opener, for me.  And I stop short of calling this book cliched, like I referenced in the title.  But it also reinforced for me - once again - how important reviewing can be, simply for this reason: reading and evaluating fiction you'd never write yourself can be just as useful in sharpening your own voice, as reading work consistent with the voice you want to develop.