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Apr 15, 2020

Reading Your Way to Becoming a Better Writer

By Jessica Hogbin.
I wrote in the same genre—contemporary romance—for about four years of my life. Everything I read or produced for the pleasure of reading and writing was within one area of the writing world. But after several years of doing the same thing, it became obvious to me that I wasn’t enjoying it anymore, and that I wanted to move on. I had an idea for a book that wasn’t within my usual repertoire: I wanted to write a thriller.

However, as a person who had become deeply entrenched in another genre, I had no experience. It wasn’t just within literature. I had never watched television shows that were even remotely frightening; I had never seen a horror or a thriller movie. None of the media I was exposed to was in this particular field, even though dozens of TV shows are heavily thriller-focused. As I got older, I became interested in a new subject, and I wanted to write about it, but I was inexperienced in how to develop characters and plot within the genre. All it took for me to become a better writer, particularly a better thriller writer, was to go to the bookstore.
At my local bookstore, I purchased about seven thrillers that interested me. Some of them were New York Times Best Sellers. Others were pretty obscure. I told myself that before I could write a thriller, I needed to know how other writers did it. From reading, I picked up clues from the published authors. There were some universal themes, but each book had the flair of its author. From reading, I was able to notice structural patterns within the genre: red herrings, usual suspects, tropes, and moral themes. When I went to write my first thriller, I felt that I could use those books to guide me through the writing process. At times, I would go to bookmarked pages from those books to remind myself about what I liked and how I could incorporate it into my own.
To become a better writer, you need to become a better reader, especially if you want to enter into a new field. I have three main suggestions on the kinds of books to read, which helped me better understand how to plot.
-       First, read at least two books by the same author in the same genre. This gives you a sense of what personal style can be like, how to vary characters, and shows you what the usual structure within the genre is. After all, books by the same author typically differ in themes, but they often follow the same pattern when it comes to storytelling.

-       Second, read the most popular book that came out in the last year in this genre. Obviously, it’s a book with mass appeal, and maybe you aren’t interested in that, but it’ll show you what people love right now.

Third, read a truly awful book. Find a book that has been torn to shreds in its Goodreads or Amazon reviews. As a writer, this gives you an opportunity to think about what you would’ve done differently with the story. Look at the reviews after you’re finished reading and see what people liked and disliked about the story. Perhaps you’ll disagree with what the populous has to say. In the end, reading helps inform us. Even if the book isn’t directly talking about writing and the writing process, you can find the information between the lines.


About the Author: Jessica Hogbin
Jessica Hogbin is currently a student at West Virginia University and is majoring in history, Italian studies, and religious studies. She spends her free time writing when she isn't studying for exams or working at a local museum where she designs and implements programs for children. Next year will be her last year as an undergraduate before hopefully heading to graduate school. Jessica currently writes young adult thrillers because she loves the intersection between teenage drama and real-life horror. Her first published short story was called "Fell Into Darkness" and was published by The First Line magazine. Her other published work is a flash fiction piece titled "The Miraculous Second Life of Bartolomeo Snyde" and is based on some graffiti she saw at a train station in Milan.