When you set out to be a writer it is important to set aside equal time to be a reader. Reading not only informs your medium by increasing your awareness in vocabulary as well as styles, but it also informs you of common plots and devices (typically referred to as the dreaded cliché).
Reading is the constant research, the unending exercise that sharpens your skills just as much as the practice of writing will do. I wrote The Shadow of Dracula; Harker’s Inheritance with a specific speech pattern. I wrote it to have the sound and sense of 1934 London. We have a British speaker/writer who is telling the tale. So the writing style, the spelling, the punctuation all had to be British. In one section the American of the group writes as the tale is dictated. The grammar patterns stay the same but she spells and punctuates differently. I hope people catch that. It’s the attention to detail, yes, but I had to learn about them somewhere. I learned that through extensive reading.
I noticed when reading British literature that “Mr.” was written, “Mr” – without the period. So I added that to my knowledge. When I read a book I’m looking at it from every aspect I can. I look for grammatical structures, differences in wording and dialect, plot points and exposition, character descriptions/mannerism, and so on. Some of these things will inspire the way I’ll write. Sometimes I like to reference the great works, and other times I strive towards my own endeavors. The point is, you have to know what is out there in order to fashion something unique. But at this point I’m talking about writer as more than just simple storytelling. I’m talking about an art form.
So most recently I finished reading Franks Herbert’s Dune. This book is a genre altering epic of science fiction. The depth of personal research, the amount of background the author created and was aware of himself was outstanding. The fine-tuned political interplay between warring houses all within the schemata of multiple interested (and powerful) parties was extraordinary. Attention to survival skills and the dramatic ways the economy and ecology of a strategic planet within a system of control was inspiring in its profound solidity. What I’m getting to is; having read Dune I feel a richer sense of appreciate for literary research and am further encouraged to trust my readers are intelligence.
The common theme these days is to lower our writing to something of a sixth grade comprehension level. It is insulting as it is damaging. In this age of information, with smart phones and Google apps, there is no reason a person shouldn’t be able to look up a definition or to research something they aren’t fully grasping at first. Dictionaries tend to be commonly available as well. I always use a moment of discovering a knowledge gap (not knowing a word, or a location) to fill it in. I turn that ignorance into intelligence. And I’ll keep doing this, always.
So, to writers out there, please, please keep challenging readers. I don’t want to get bored with my reading. Keep my dictionary in use, artfully of course. Teach me of new and exotic places, especially if you’ve created them. You hold people, cultures, and entire universes inside your head. Let them out. I want to meet them, to see them, and to explore strange new place, to boldly go where… Hang on. Anyway. You get the point.
It’s brilliant. You’re brilliant. Be brilliant.