How to Benefit from Reading Fiction as a Writer

Agatha Christie

A writer who doesn’t read books is like a musician who doesn’t listen to music or a film director who doesn’t watch films. How can you know that your writing is good if you never read anything?

I believe that fiction books can make you a better writer. Who else but the prominent authors can teach you a writing craft? Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Austen, Faulkner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Twain, and other legends mastered this art. They can inspire and guide you to new writing achievements.

Reading by itself doesn’t do the magic. It is taking information from the masterpieces and writing to adapt it as your own that improves your writing skills. Be an active reader. Read carefully and highlight places that are so perfectly written that you would like to read them again.

Keep a reading journal. Record your impressions and ideas on the books. These entries will help you later in essay writing. Such a practice can awaken your unique voice.

Are you a student who writes academic papers? A beginning writer who’s just trying your hand in this craft? An experienced essay writer or blogger who earns money with content creating? You can learn five valuable lessons from fiction writers.

Edgar Allan Poe

1. The structure and language techniques

Pay attention to the organization of the story you read. Are there subdivisions within a chapter? How many scenes are there in a single chapter? How many chapters are there between major scenes?

Develop a stronger grasp of the language. Learn new words. Larger vocabulary will enable you to construct powerful sentences.

Carefully examine the dialogues. How does the author create them? How are they incorporated into the scenes?

Even the famous writers studied the works of others before developing their own voice and style. Ernest Hemingway and Isaac Bashevis Singer took the novels of Ivan Turgenev and Knut Hamsun as an example. Ralph Ellison read Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway. Eudora Welty loved Anton Chekhov. William Faulkner was inspired by Sherwood Anderson and James Joyce.

Ernest Hemingway

2. Vivid images

We’ve heard the classic writing rule “Show, don’t tell” so many times that it has become stale. Anyway, what does it mean? Readers need characters with whom they can empathize (Harry Potter), or revile (Tywin Lannister) or both. How can you create complex and intriguing characters?

Reread your favorite fiction book. Pay attention to the way the author describes the main character. What language and stylistic devices does he/she use? Take the character and plot and try to tell your own story.

3. Unexpected twists

What makes Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane or Red Wedding by George R.R. Martin so gripping and memorable is a great plot twist. When the narration is driving smoothly in one direction, an author adds something unexpected to surprise the reader.

A twist is used in fiction to prevent predictability and reveal character traits. Read the detective stories by Agatha Christie, Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle or Edgar Allan Poe and pay attention to how the twist is set up. Make your own writing compelling developing the dynamics of your narration. Mix your outstanding ideas into expository details!

Game of Thrones, Red Wedding scene

4. Add humor to your writing

Writers employ wit to improve the quality of their literary fictional stories. It helps to arouse the readers’ interest and connects them with characters. No doubt, readers like humor.

Introduce wit through the use of irony, satire, dialect (in the dialogues), hyperbole, and surprising shifts in perspective. This way, you will sustain the reader’s attention, emphasize and relate ideas, and make your story memorable. You can find the examples of this technique’s mastery in the following humorous works: “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” by Mark Twain, James Thurber’s “The Night the Ghost Got in”, “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger, any of Shakespeare’s comedies.

Francis Scott Fitzgerald

5. Show your personality, don’t be a copycat

Fiction gives you words, techniques, and structure to observe and imitate. But don’t stick to mere copying. It’s not the goal of your writing.

It’s OK to practice what works for the prominent authors at the beginning. Employ characters, settings, and dialogues that refer to other books to give your own work a bit more heft. Make literary allusions including references, quotes, and facts. It will tie separate opinions together to make a larger, more all-embracing point that gives the gravitas to your content. It works best for academic paper writing. Henry Miller made references to literature throughout his novels. He cited Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Balzac, and Joris-Karl Huysmans who had influenced him as a writer.

Fiction literature can provide you many writing lessons if read attentively. It can teach you to craft the texts in ways other than the boring, straightforward approach of writing assignments you learn in school. Read more fiction to the benefit of your writing style and voice!