If You Write, Do You Enjoy Reading Less?
I have at least one friend who has accused me of spoiling mystery novels for him. Every change of point of view, forced plot point, or Deus ex Machina moment kicked him out of the story. It spoiled his enjoyment of the whole book. Will this happen to you?
Unfortunately. At least, when you first start paying attention to your own choice of words and methods. As you perfect your technique, it’s natural to notice when others do it well or poorly.
So you project a future of reading pleasure destroyed just to build up a shaky repertoire of story-telling skills. Hardly seems worth it, does it?
Okay, bad news but the good news is that it is a temporary condition for two reasons: it eventually enhances your enjoyment of reading and there is a way to still enjoy novels short on craft.
In the by-gone days when you were ‘just’ a reader, there would have been at least some novels of which you said, “I couldn’t get into it” or “It was kind of confusing” or “I didn’t like the main character.”
You put them away unsatisfied. It looked like it would have been a good story. Other books by this author have been. This leaves you with a vaguely uncomfortable feeling. However, since you have a life, you move onto the next novel on your list.
But as a writer, you start to see why the novel didn’t work. There wasn’t enough forward action. All that description slowed down the plot. The biker, the psychologist, and the fashion model all sounded the same (in a mystery novel I actually read).
Won’t make you like the novel any better but it provides you with the satisfaction of solving the puzzle of your reaction.
In fact, a good grasp of writing principles actually heightens your enjoyment of really fine novels. I first realized this when reading No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod. Two parts of my brain were operating simultaneously. One part was crying and being completely with the character and the other was admiring. So that’s how he did it.
You can remark on how skillfully the author included scenes where the hero was a fine but troubled fellow so that your heart aches for him when he causes his own downfall. You can see why the marriage of two minor but charming characters is told rather than shown to allow the romance of the main characters to keep center stage by being shown
So in the end, understanding what makes a good story allows you to enjoy good ones more and identify mistakes in others’ writing which you can avoid in your own.
Getting around this problem
But you don’t want to spend the next however many years hating to read while you build up your writing skills.
I have a simple but effective answer. Pick what you like in the particular novel or author and read for that.
Agatha Christie was a great plotter but her character development (aside from caricature) was practically nil. But I go back to her again and again.
Other authors may write a nail-biting cliff-hanger by having his character do a completely unlikely thing. Enjoy the nail biting, ignore the pushed around heroine. The hero flourishes his hat with the plume of feathers in the novel set in the Victorian era. Ignore the historical anachronism and enjoy the romance.
If you focus on what the author does well, you can still enjoy her work even if she might be wanting on other fronts. After all, you’re not perfect either, are you?