There has been a long-running debate about whether one needs to be an avid reader in order to be a good writer. I personally think that the two go hand-in-hand. Reading builds our vocabulary to a much greater extent than does watching television, exposing us to twice as many rare or unusual words. And how can one possibly write effectively and hold a reader’s attention without possessing an amazing vocabulary?
But beyond words, what constitutes great writing? For me, the hallmark of an excellent writer is their ability to draw me into the lives of their characters and make me feel as if I’m an active part of the story and not a passive participant. I want to have access to the characters’ phone numbers so I can call them up to discuss their circumstance that I’m reading about. There have been several books that I’ve recently read upon whose ending I was extremely upset. I wanted them to go on and on forever. Two of these are The World According to Garp by John Irving and Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. These are just two recent examples, but there have been many in my reading career.
Over the years, my reading choices have changed drastically, as has my writing style. During middle school and high school, I was enamored with authors such as Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, Agatha Christie, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harper Lee, and Emily Bronte. The classics were comforting at a time when my life was changing and in turmoil. Reading a timeless story that has survived generations of readers somehow made life easier. As my reading tastes changed, I almost exclusively read mysteries inspired by my early readings of Agatha Christie, and even earlier than that, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series. Curling up with a whodunit was the best life could bring. As I approach a new decade in my life (and I’m not telling which one), my tastes have changed yet again, leaning towards literary fiction and some non-fiction, with some of my favorite children’s books thrown in for nostalgia.
To answer the question I posed in the beginning — does reading affect one’s writing? — I think it’s a no-brainer. My writing has changed and evolved over the years because of what I read. My vocabulary has increased, my tone and style are more effective, and my descriptions have become more embellished. How can a writer begin to understand plot and character development without having been absorbed in a story? Reading opens us to experiences that we otherwise would never have been exposed to in our lifetime. It is these wisdoms imparted through others ‘ stories that have broadened my world, allowing me to write about things I’ve not experienced first-hand.
I’d love to hear your views on the subject. Which are your favorite authors and books? How have they affected your life and your writing voice?