Tools for Discovery Writers: Reading Fuel

Discovery writing draws on our subconscious. We’re letting the story tell itself and copying down what we imagine. Minimal conscious thought guides my stories, I only think enough to guide the general direction of the plot and maintain consistency. The rest comes from the ether inside. Ideas drawn from the nebulous subconscious.

Stimulus in day to day life makes up the human subconcious. We absorb stimulus unconciously and the contents form our creative well. Play a lot of video games and you’ll find yourself writing video game stories. Watch a lot of movies and write stories inspired by film. Read a lot of books and you’ll write good fiction.

Inspiration doesn’t come on the wings of some mystical muse, carried down to Earth to whisper genius into your mind. Total up every book you’ve ever read, every story you’ve ever experienced, and combine them a blender. That’s inspiration. Your subconscious mind will pick through this amalgamation of story experience and try new combinations. You might even do this while you’re sleeping! I believe the universally desired ‘original story’ derives from the combination of many stories rather than actually conjuring up something from nothing. Storytelling is more like building Frankenstein’s monster than alchemy.

Reading is by far the most important activity for a writer outside of actually writing if we want to succeed. Every book you read is an ingredient for your blender, or another log to toss on your creative fire. Even if it’s not the best book you’ve ever read, there’s certain to be ideas within the larger context that stand out. When I’m reading I write far more creatively than when I’m not reading. There’s no substitute. Story rich video games don’t count. Aaron Sorkin screenplays don’t count (though that’s a good way to learn about dialogue.) Books are the fuel that the novelist’s engine desires.

Find books in the genre you want to write. Fantasy? Have you read Wheel of Time? The Sword of Truth? Runelords? There’s no finer instruction manual for writing your chosen genre than reading the popular works. You’ll see what your target audience responds to, even if it’s not exactly your glass of wine, and you’ll learn. There’s nothing more futile than trying to write an original story in a specific genre without reading a large chunk of the popular titles. How would you even know if your idea is original if you haven’t read a large catalogue in your genre?

Don’t read your genre exclusively either. Just because you aspire to write fantasy genre pulp doesn’t mean you wouldn’t benefit from reading literary. Romance novels will help any writer, in any genre. Few stories ever suffer commercially from the addition of an excellent romantic side plot. When you’re making a smoothie you want a varied selection of fruit. Strawberry smoothies are pretty good, but strawberry banana? Now we’re talking.

There’s more benefits than simply creativity, though that particular advantage can hardly be understated. Reading books helps you write better. You see what professional prose looks like on the page, even if you don’t love the story, and you absorb the rules of composition. Writing becomes easier as you draw upon more and more books. Previously bamboozling forms in writing fiction become second nature as you draw on the experience of reading professionals. The discovery writer wants to get the words out quickly, and executing your ideas with a minimum of mistakes means a more polished first draft. Why try and reinvent the wheel? Read and channel the prose of the greats, let legends speak through your fingers, and write an outstanding novel.

Please drop in the comments and share your inspirations. Do you read? Watch TV? Play story driven games? Follow for more writing tips and tricks from a daily discovery writer. Happy writing!

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