Ask any writer or professor. Read any book or blog, and they will tell you that one of the best ways to learn how to write is to read.
This is very good advice. Problem is that, more often than not, I find myself getting lost in the story rather than dissecting authorial technique.
Maybe it’s because when I pick up a book, I’m doing so as a consumer rather than a critic. Sure, I might go back to see if I can figure out how the author pulled off that neat trick with characterization or setting, but when it comes to reading, my primary aim is always to enjoy a good story.
There have been many times when critics have lambasted some of my favorite books, calling out the authors for purple prose or poor characterization or weak plots, basic skills everyone should master before attempting a novel. They call the author an amateur, a hack, a bad writer.
I don’t care. I still love them.
When it comes to books, I only have one rule: don’t bore me.
Sounds simple enough, but it’s more challenging than you might think. I have a notoriously short attention span. For an author to keep me reading for three hundred pages requires a great deal of skill. If the story sags for more than a few pages, then I’m done. Bottom line: if a writer is going to explore the human condition, preach altruism, or flex his literary muscles at me, then he’d better wrap it all up in one hell of a story.
This attitude has made it difficult for me to develop a critical eye, but I’m slowly learning how to look for what works in other people’s stories, and by extension, my own. There is just as much to learn from poorly written books as there is in stories written by master storytellers.
Still, nothing compares to the rush of diving into a great story and not coming up for air until it’s over. Knowing that I can always go back and figure out how the author captured my attention is just icing on the cake.
What about you? How do you find balance between your own consumer and critic?