Sunday, January 25, 2009

To Read or Not to Read - Part 3

I've been reading a lot of YA lately. Not just historical fiction, but all kinds. I just finished THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX which, like another one of my favorites, UNWIND, is a futuristic story that tells such a fascinating story that the reader is sucked into new worlds at the same time being forced to think about important issues like life and death, quality of life, and medical ethics, without even realizing it. I LOVE books that encourage thinking!

So, you might wonder what I've been thinking about...

I've been thinking about my critique group. There was one small instance in JENNA FOX that stopped me. Without writing any spoilers, the MC's parents go to fairly extreme measures to hide Jenna away, but when they finally concede to allow Jenna to go to school, they send her out into the world with her real name, Jenna Fox. It bugged me that they didn't at least change her name to keep her identity secret.

I know if Mary Pearson were in our critique group and had brought a rough draft of JENNA FOX to be critiqued someone would have said, "hey, how come her parents don't change her name?" Heck! I would have said it! And perhaps, if Mary Pearson were in our group, she'd have gone back to her desk/computer and written a whole convoluted sub-plot involving the name change of Jenna Fox when it OBVIOUSLY isn't necessary.

Reading more YA has made me realize how much REALLY GOOD YA is out in the world. It's also made me realize that perhaps I am too picky in my critiques. I'm not talking about ignoring glaring inconsistencies, or plot development that doesn't develop, or MCs who have no attraction, I'm talking about small stuff that can be justified with a suspension of belief, a faith in my reader that I don't need to explain every tiny, minute detail. Let the character live and let the reader read.

I am evolving as a reader. I am finding that most of the books I've picked up I've had to read straight through because the story is so engaging that I just want to enjoy it. Then I have to go back and read it as a writer - which I confess to not being that good at yet.

So as I am learning how to be a better writer and a better critiquer, I'm wondering how other writers read. Does reading influence your writing or your critiquing?


  1. I hate to admit it, but I'm a greedy reader. I rarely analyze a thing. I read to enjoy the moment and escape into a story.

    Now as to your critiquing -- since I'm up for our next meeting, should I expect a kinder, gentler Meg? I sure hope not... I actually like getting down to the nitty-gritty.

  2. J.A. -- I hope I will always give worthwhile and productive critiques while being supportive, BUT I am going to allow myself to take bigger leaps of faith.

  3. Warning - Not sure if there's actual spoilers here or not.

    re: Adoration of Jenna Fox
    Now that you mentioned it, I agree it's a little odd her parents didn't change her name. But I also I think her parents underestimated Jenna's ability and desire to seek out the truth.

    But what better way to hide something, but in plain sight? I think if they had changed her name, and she had figured out her name wasn't her real name, it could have ruin their familial relationship for good.

    I loved Unwind. Great balance of POVs.

    If you haven't yet, make sure to check out The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Litttle Brother by Cory Doctorow. You can download a copy of LB for free.

    And to answer your question - I think reading makes me a better writer because I learn to pick up on the little things, and make sure I keep track of them in my own writing. But, I suppose I've always done that. Making sure all the detail are right.

    You know what might be interesting to try - having a book club that reads a specific book as writers, not readers. I think reading as a writer is just like learning to write, it just takes time, practice, and a few epic fails. (Let me know if you're interested in such a book club, because the more I think about it, the more I want to do it.)

    Sorry this comment was so long. I found your blog via the Verla Kay Boards

  4. Chris - Welcome to The Paper Wait. Thanks for commenting. HUNGER GAMES is on my list to be read. I see that you've got THE BOOK THIEF on your list. That is my all time favorite book.
    If you're challenged by keeping track of details in your own writing, you should check out JA's post of January 22, "Just the Facts" She's got a great suggestion.

  5. I sure wish I could stop analyzing whatever I'm reading, it always gets in the way of a good yarn, but the writer in me just can't. I'm always dog-earing pages, or jotting down notes, or examining sections microscopically.

    I miss reading like I used to in the good old days--straight through, no fits and spurts, no distractions, completely absorbed, lying on a hammock in the summertime, feet crossed at the ankles, sipping ice-cold lemonade...

  6. I do find it hard to read with writer's eyes. Like Meg, I need to read something twice. Once I've enjoyed the plot and characters, then I'm ready to poke around in the prose to see how the author did it.

    It's also interesting to pick a picture book apart. The plot seems so simple on first read, but the structure of the story is usually quite complex. Change a few words here and there and the whole blasted thing falls apart.

  7. Wow - love the idea for a book club to read books with a writer's eye. (hope that makes sense)

    I have a problem reading just for enjoyment anymore. Although I do, I sometimes wonder why certain writers are allowed to get away with things that would get picked apart in my own writing. (for instance - adverb usage) I do like it when I'm not picking a book apart per se, but when I'm reading and admiring how the writer got in an important piece of info or surprised me with a plot twist.

    UNWIND was one of those books that grabbed me by the throat and pulled me into it from page one. That was a real WOW book for me, too and I don't actively seek out fantasy. It's definitely a book that's stayed with me.

    Great post, Meg!

  8. Like Robin, I like Chris's idea of a book club...

    Maybe we can add it as a feature to the blog??

  9. Meg--
    Thanks for coming to my blog, so I found yours! Love the blog name!

    When I first began reading as a writer, it bothered me. Drew me out of the story too much. But now I'm glad that I do, because I can recognize genius when I see it, or understand why a book just doesn't do it for me.

    Makes me feel like I'm in on the secret of how the magic trick works!