Do Christian Writers Read Enough?

You hear it all the time as part of author interviews or writing instructor advice–read, read, read, and then read. But why? Shouldn’t writers be more concerned about writing, not reading?

The truth is, reading is as important to learning to write well as listening was to learning to speak. As children, we didn’t learn to speak by going off to a corner by ourselves and babbling in baby talk. If that’s all we did, day in and day out, we would never have learned what we were supposed to say when we wanted up or Dada or more.

Not only did we learn our vocabulary from listening, we learned sentence structure and grammar. If you had parents like mine, they corrected you if you said, I seed a dog or I swinged high. But chances are, you didn’t make those mistakes more than once or twice because you never heard your parents make them. In other words, learning to speak comes from imitation.

Learning to write is similar. By reading good stories, writers imitate, unconsciously, how to structure a plot, create conflict, develop a character, enhance the mood, establish a pace, and much more.

The thing is, writing fiction is not a static endeavor. Like language itself, it’s dynamic and therefore, what worked for Mark Twain back in the nineteenth century isn’t necessarily going to work in the twenty-first century.

Hence, part of a writer’s work is to read current fiction–good books that are coming out this year or last.

We’re having a discussion over at Spec Faith about Christian speculative fiction writers, and Fred Warren left a comment that said in part,

We buy each other’s books and trade “critiques” that are mostly affirmations and then wonder why the rest of the world (or the rest of the Christian fiction community) doesn’t understand how great we are.

Ouch!

But is Fred wrong?

I’ll say this. I’ve asked questions in posts at Spec Faith before about what current Christian speculative stories people are reading, and the results have been discouraging. Sure, if we opened the question up to the classics, everyone had read Tolkien or Lewis or Chesterton or MacDonald. Beyond that, few authors came to the forefront.

Is that because there are no good Christian speculative writers today? No. I could name a half dozen with ease. But shouldn’t every Christian speculative writer be able to do the same thing? Shouldn’t we know who is writing in our genre and who is at the top?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t also read general market fiction as well. There are good, quality stories that we can learn from though we must be certain we don’t decide simply to write a clean version of those books. Christians should want more than a baptized retread, and Christian writers should want to offer the “new song” God can put in our mouths, not an old song with bleeped lyrics.

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Published in: on October 9, 2012 at 5:15 pm  Comments (4)  
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4 Comments

  1. Good post, Becky. I do agree that reading is so important because you can learn from our authors on how a story is constructed. How they create characters? Is the plot or storyline plausible? What viewpoint is the author trying to get across in this story? All of those items, I can only learn from reading.

    Now, let me address the other point in your blog post. As you know, I’m a blogger as well and I do book reviews. I have written book reviews on Christian Fantasy works like George Bryan Polivka’s Trophy Chase Trilogy & the prequel, Blaggard’s Moon. Also, I did a review for Laura Lond’s Adventures of Jecosan Tarres trilogy ( a self-published series) and I’m currently reading Morgan Busse’s Daughter of Light. I will post a review for that novel when I’m finished.

    I do agree that we who love the Christian Spec-Fic genre should read more current authors and do reviews and give honest critiques. However, I believe we should also read outside of the genre to get a broader perspective on other authors tell their stories. For example, I read and review two novels that I would have never read if I didn’t step out of my comfort zone: Louise Erdrich’s Tracks & PD James’ Cover Her Face. I didn’t like Tracks even though it was beautifully written. But, I loved Cover Her Face and I’m going to read the entire series from PD James.

    My point is that we should read from the very best authors from any genre and that will enhance the work of Christian Spec-Fic Genre. Because if you only read in the current genre……then you can retread the same type of stories and it can become insular.

    Marion

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    • Marion, I couldn’t agree more. Yes, we need to be reading in our genre but we need to be reading the best fiction we can, too. That’s how we learn, especially when it’s coupled with our own writing and with critiques and with writing instruction. I don’t think there’s an either/or when it comes to learning to write well.

      Becky

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  2. I have been reading and writing since I was about 7 years old. My parents made my brother and I read out loud to them right before Walter Cronkite came on every evening. I don”t remember not reading because I have always had a book with me. The kids that I have taught have always seen me with a book. Reading has prompted me to keep a journal over the years and it allows me an escape that I can’t get from television. I want to read Christian Speculative fiction but I don’t know which ones are good and which ones I need to leave alone. I also have found that some of the Christian Fictions are heavily female. Are there any good ones written by Men. My wife is not a reader like me, but she has accepted my need to read.

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  3. James, I love hearing stories like yours. I grew up in a household where we read as a family. I learned to love books early on, so I’m right with you.

    You came to the right place to ask about Christian speculative fiction. Of course it depends on what flavor of speculation you prefer. My first choice is fantasy. I’d recommend George Bryan Polivka’s Trophy Chase trilogy followed by his standalone set in the same world, Blaggard’s Moon.

    Stephen Lawhead has three books out of a five book series called the Bright Empires. The first is The Skin Map, followed by The Bone House and The Spirit Well. These have the feel of time travel stories, so aren’t typical fantasy. More like science fantasy.

    Andrew Peterson has a wonderful middle grade/young adult series–with one book to go–called the Wingfeather Saga.

    Of course there are some women writers who don’t write for a female audience. Karen Hancock is one–her Guardian-King series has a male protagonist.

    Anyway, that should be enough to get you started.

    Enjoy.

    Becky

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