Tag Archives: reading

Reading Style Impacts Writing–at least for me.

Like all things in life, I’ve come to realize there is more than one way to skin a cat read a book.  Not that I ever…okay, yeah I have, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

I tend to read from first page to last page.  I skip description and passages of serious character introspection.  Don’t shoot me, but it’s true.  I think I read this way because my imagination is quite stubborn and requires very little outside direction.

Tell me there’s a garden and I immediately picture the entire thing, laid out and ready for use.  If the ornamental, miniature, purple-flowering hedge bush is integral to the story, drop it in there.  And nothing more.  When you do this, my brain files away the item that was special enough to be mentioned. 

When you fill in the garden with every single plant, every scent, every color and every texture, I’m guaranteed to skip over your words.  Then if there’s something important in the midst of all that detail, I’ll miss it and won’t be happy at the end of the book when the ornamental, miniature, purple-flowering hedge bush was the source of the poison. 

Why?  Because, in my mind, it got lost.  My attention, that is, not the bush.  That was always there waiting to be used during the “ah ha” moment. 

Ironically, Eldest just informed me he likes when authors fill in the voids of his imagination.  “I love when everything is described so I can see what people look like and what, exactly, is happening.”

He would hate me as a writer.  I don’t describe much at all.  Case in point, in my YA (that I just finished editing last night, go me!)  I barely describe my MC at all.  She has blonde hair–unlike her parents–and her eyes are the color of the sky just before it snows.  That’s it. 

Pretty ambiguous.  Yet, I visualize her perfectly.  Likewise, none of my critters have complained that they don’t know what she looks like.  Because of this, I assume they, too, have also visualized her based on her actions, emotions and carefully placed commentary along the way.

For instance, she pulls her hair back into a pony tail when she doesn’t have time to shower in chapter 2.  Her hair can be anywhere from a sleek, chin-length bob to a butt-brushing cascade of curls.  I never say. 

Personally, I don’t care–at least until they cast her for a movie.  My readers can see my MC any way they want to envision her.  She can have wide, child-bearing hips or be super slim.  Her skin can be pale as cream that rises to the top of the milk, mahogany brown or any shade in between.  It really doesn’t matter to me. 

Except the eyes and hair.  Those two details come into play waaaaaay at the end of the book.  Which is why I took the time to describe them.

Why do I hate long passages of inner musing?  Because I like to read between the lines.  I like to feel so connected to a character that I intuitively “get” them and why they do things.  When I am told, again and again, what the MC is thinking, deciding or feeling, I get bored with him.  He becomes less three-dimensional and morphs into a teacher. 

It’s as if the author is telling me to pay attention.  “Now, get ready, here comes something important.”  and “Oh yeah, in case you didn’t get it the last time around, here’s what is really happening now.”

And the villainous explanation at the end, when the MC is tied to the railroad tracks with a 9mm gun pointed at her head?  Those I skip on principle.  If a writer didn’t show me motives and opportunities along the way, I have no interest in getting them in dialogue just to wrap up the ending.

Because of my cosmic dislikes when I read, I’m uber careful not to pen them into my own novels. 

How about you?  How do your reading likes and dislikes affect the way you write?  Can writers become too stubborn in this mindset?  If so, how?

Curious minds want to know.

Picture Book Appeal

I love picture books.  I read them every day with my preschoolers.  Some of them get read every day, while others lounge on the shelf half of forever before being noticed.  So what makes a good picture book?

Okay, what makes a good picture book in my opinion?

  • My favorite picture books are those where the text and the pictures work together and independently to create a richer meaning.  This doesn’t mean it has to be a picture search.  Rather, I want the text and the words to complement each other.  A great example: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.
  • My second favorite kind of picture book is one that uses the page turn.  What does this mean?  I love the pauses that turning a page creates.  It’s a chance to catch your breath and lounge in the moment.  It’s a chance to rev my imagination.  It’s suspense at its finest.  A time where I am surprised and delighted to turn the page.  A great example: The Very Cranky Bear by Nick Bland.
  • Another favorite trait?  Lyrical language.  I heart The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson.  If ever a writer has mastered the art of economy, it is Ms. Donaldson in this book. 
  • What else do I love?  Turning the page and finding the unexpected.  There’s a Nightmare in My Closet by Mercer Mayer rocks my socks off.
  • A good belly laugh is almost always appreciated by parents and kids alike.  Laughing out loud with a child is the most magical connection we can have with the little people.  A great read: Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin.
  • Another important component in changing a book from a casual read to a daily favorite is readability, including cadence and rhythm.  If I can’t pronounce the words, if the sentences don’t flow or if I’m tripping over my tongue with poetic, but unnatural prose, I will curse the book in words I can’t pronounce, but most certainly do flow.  Then I’ll throw it in the give-a-way pile, never to be seen again. To this end, I love Speedy Little Race Cars by Dawn Bentley.
  • An absolute must for me as a mom and a preschool teacher is the read-again factor.  There are times I literally close the last page of a book and open the beginning for a second, back-to-back reading.  If  I hate the characters, the plot, or if any of the above mentioned factors aren’t done well, I will recycle the book quicker than I slap annoying mosquitoes.  One I’ve loved listening to as a kid and now love reading as an adult is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day! by Judith Viorst.

So there you go.  A completely unscientific list of books and the reasons why I (and my preschoolers) love them.

What is your favorite picture book and why is it a compelling read?

Mob Mentality

It’s been a crazy day.  A simple link leading to a knock-down, drag-out war popped up everywhere I turned today.

A self-pubbed author received a mildly bad review and majorly blew it out of proportion.  It was simultaneously hideous and humorous.  Yet after seeing the same fight replayed over and over again got to be wearing. 

Even more troubling were the reactions of the readers and commentors to the numerous blog posts, tweets and forum threads.  In no time at all, people hopped on the attack wagon themselves. 

Exhausting to say the least.

Then a writer friend of mine PMed me about the psychology of critiques in a thread.  And I paraphrase: Doesn’t it seem like the tone of the first comment sets the outcome for all comments that follow?

Absolutely.  100%.  Without a doubt.

Yes, yes and yes.  People feel empowered when they have the seeming support of others.  We forget to think for ourselves and let the ideas and opinions of others influence how we react.  Especially if we were wishy-washy to begin with.

People used to get hanged by mobs.  Innocent people had nooses slipped around their necks and the rumps of horses slapped out from under them simply because the mob mentality is so strong.  Going against the grain of popular opinion can almost be a death sentence in and of itself.  So bystanders either shut their mouths and allow atrocities to occur around them, or they jump on the back of the mob and shout their support regardless of how right or wrong a situation is.

We see this in schools, at parks, during rallies and on the internet.  Everywhere a group of people meets and intermingles, the potential for us to lose our independence and fall in favor of the mob is there.

Have you ever been a part of mobbing?  Wrote about it?  Read it?  What is an effective way to curb this behavior, if any?  If not, how can we protect ourselves from getting sucked into this very explosive game?

What does this mentality mean to you as a writer and the way you handle yourself in the public view?

Thank You, Ted Dekker!

Last week, Eldest was restless and looking for something to do.  I handed him a copy of Chosen, the first in The Lost Books Series.  He read it over the course of a few days.  Then begged for a trip to the book store to buy the second one.

I got home from work today to find him lounging on the couch fully engrossed in the second book–with only four chapters left to go.

Eldest is severely dyslexic and hates reading.  Because it takes him three times longer than the average 11th grader to read a page, he avoids reading at all costs. 

He’s also begging for me to buy the next book and the next and the next. 

In my eyes, there is no greater accomplishment, no greater reward, than touching the life of a child.  When I grow up, I want to be just like Ted.  I want to help kids learn to read for pleasure.  I want children who otherwise shy away from the written word to hang on every word I write. 

Kudos, Mr. Dekker, from the bottom of my heart.  I am your number one fan at this moment in time. 

What do you want to accomplish as a writer?  Is getting published your end goal, or do you have a deeper purpose to your writing journey?

The Power of Words: sight over sound

Dear Daughter is enduring a bout of bullying at school.  Kids can be cruel.  Girls can be nasty.  Teens…well…they’re teens.

Long story short, she’s been the punchline of a few not-so-funny jokes.  Whispered words in the halls, naughty words scratched in her day planner and one extremely derogatory remark scribbled on a teacher’s white board.

Words can hurt.

As writers and story-tellers, we know first hand the power behind them.  They can make us laugh and cry, shout, scream or moan.  They shock us, terrify us, amuse us and frustrate us.  Words are magical. 

But which is more so?  The written word or the spoken word?

Is hearing a story more potent than reading one?  Is that why voice is so important in a great piece of fiction, because the characters themselves leap off the page and into our imaginations?

It’s likely why picture books are so beloved to both children and adults alike.  Not only can we read the words, but we can see the story come to life while feeling the lyrical cadence deep in our soul.

I wonder if that’s why whispered words cut us so deeply?  They cannot be ripped up, erased or thrown in the trash.  Once spoken, they are a living memory not easily ignored.

Which would you choose: to read and not hear or to hear and not be able to read?

For the Love of Books

Last night, youngest got a new pair of shoes.  Once he got them tied he refused to take them off.  Play time ended: he had them on.  Snack: yep, still wearing them.  Teeth brushed: check.  Jammies:???

Last night youngest went to bed in his undies, socks and tennies–because he refused to take off his shoes and they didn’t fit through his jammie legs. 

There is something so tenacious and unconditional about a child’s love.  They instantly find something to cling to and then refuse to let go. 

Do you find yourself instantly drawn to a book, where the first sentence rocks your world so much you can’t take your shoes off?

As a busy adult, do you still find those books so magical that you forget the world around you until the last page is read?

Or, are you more responsible or embarrassed by such antics as reading yourself silly?

I used to have a girlfriend who would read one page a night.  One page.  I don’t know if this is humanly possible for me.  In book reading, I’m kind of an all or nothing gal.  If I can ration out a book, then it means I’m lukewarm about it. 

How do you fit reading time into your life?  Does reading ever compete with your writing?  And win?  Have you ever defended your reading time by calling it research–whether it was or wasn’t?

What book are waiting to get your hands on now?

What happened to Genetics?

As many of you know, I am an avid reader and a writer at heart.  I love literature.  If I had a day with no responsibilities and absolute freedom, I would read. 

Unfortunately, my oldest fell far from my tree.  While he loves stories, he doesn’t like to read or write.  He has struggled with both of these since he attended preschool and rhyming was the eighth wonder of his world.  This despite the fact that I read to him for hours every single day of his wee childhood.  This despite my deep, abiding respect for the written word. 

So what happened to genetics?  Why can’t he read as easily or as fluently as I can?  Or his three younger siblings?  Why does punctuation have no meaning to him, and why, oh why, does he break every spelling rule ever created and not notice that his version is unreadable? 

Eldest is now in the 10th grade.  Today we embark on our newest edition of his educational life.  Today he is getting tested for Dyslexia.  While I have felt for a long time that he has Dyslexia, schools do not test for it.  When he attended a private tutoring center, they didn’t test for it either.  In fact, very few facilities do despite the fact that Dyslexia is considered the number one cause for reading disabilities.

To me, it makes sense to identify the problem and treat it specifically, rather than treating all struggling and reluctant readers the same.  Yet I appear to be a minority.  Maybe because my son’s struggles hit so close to home.  Nobody else seems interested in why the written language is elusive to him or why he can’t remember a string of directions or how to get home from the video store.

Instead, teachers seem intent on disciplining him for failing to complete an assignment, writing poorly or forgetting to show up for a band lesson.  Rather than being rewarded for figuring out the math problem in his head, he is docked points for not showing his work.  His brain does things a little differently than the rest of ours.

He is an anomaly.  Intelligent, yet average.  Attentive, yet forgetful.  Articulate, yet functionally illiterate. 

I hope these tests finally give us some answers.  I would like to understand how his brain works, because it obviously does not work like mine.  I would like him to feel, for the first time, as if he is amazing and that he can accomplish anything.  A diagnosis would go a long way in explaining what happened to genetics and how they seemingly missed him. 

I wonder if the Schwan’s man can read…

Just kidding, Eldest is the spittin’ image of my DH. 

Who gave you your love for the written word?  Do your parents read and write, or are you the apple that rolled down the hill and nestled into a storybook land of your own making?