Unless you’ve all been trapped in a mine in Chile for the last month, by now you’ve seen the charming video So You Want To Write A Novel. On the wild chance you’ve somehow missed it, it stars two teddy bears, one of whom has decided to write a novel. The trouble is that he’s doing it for all the wrong reasons. For example,
Would-Be Writer Bear:I’m going to write a novel.
Incredulous Friend: For the love of all that is holy, why? I’ve never seen you show even the slightest interest in books…Now that I think about it, I’ve never even seen you read a book.
Would-Be Writer Bear: That’s because all fiction novels suck.
Incredulous Friend: What’s the last book you read?
Would-Be Writer Bear: I saw all of the Harry Potter movies.
Have you ever had a conversation like this? They usually occur with someone with stars in his eyes and not the first idea of how to write a novel. I can’t imagine that I really need to tell our faithful readers why this rationale is insane. But there might be a shiny new person peeking out from behind the lurker’s curtain, so I’ll say it anyway. Books and scripts are not the same kind of writing. If you want to write for the movies and television, watch movies and television. If you want to write books, read them. Eventually, once you’ve got a real handle on the mechanics of storytelling, the two can overlap a bit, but until you’ve read lots and lots of books, you’re just not ready. But there’s another form of media that’s equally unhelpful, but insidiously tempting. The audio book.
Audio books are wonderful inventions. Generally they’re three hours long, a decent length for the trip to Grandma’s for the holidays or the drive to the beach every summer. Listening to a story is way more pleasant than the hourly hunt for a radio station or the lonely echo of a car in which everyone’s asleep but me. I love a good audio book. But they are not usually good for the would-be writer who’s trying to learn his craft. Yes, it’s a book, but not the right kind.
Right about now there are one or two folks crossing their arms and frowning at me through the computer screen. “What does she know,” they’re thinking. “It takes days to read a book, but I can listen to a book on CD on my way to and from work. Anyway, a story is a story. No one will ever know the difference.” That’s the point…it will show. Oh, how it will show. You may not realize it, because you’re too close to the situation, but readers can feel it.
I had a friend a while back who was writing a novel, but claimed he didn’t have the time to read books. Instead, he listened to books on CD. Seems like a good compromise, until you realize that most books on CD are abridged. The juicy details and subplots that make a novel wholly satisfying are cut from the abridged versions, so that the story can fit in a three-hour format. It’s fine for listening in the car, although even then I’ve had times when I’d suddenly look at my husband and say, “Wait, what was that about the rhino? Did I miss something?” Yes, I did – the paragraph that led up to the mention of the rhino was cut out, leaving me, the listener, with no context as to why a rhinoceros was charging down the Champs Elysees. It happens with abridged books. Listening to an abridged audio book is just like reading the old Classic Comic book – you’ll get the gist of the story, but something’s missing. Besides, reading a novel with all the delicious extra bits removed is plain boring. I know this because that’s how my friend’s novel began to sound. There was plenty of action, but no depth. He didn’t seem to see it himself, but it was plain to me that he needed to read a few books the old-fashioned way.
So even though you think your life is already crazy busy, do your best to budget time for reading. Your future readers will thank you.